By Hilah Barbot, 6th Grade Science Featured Teacher, KIPP New Orleans
Being able to read and write well are core skills that students need regardless of the subject they are studying. Four years ago, I introduced the practice of having the students in my 6th grade science class write research papers – just like they will do once they are in college. It wasn’t long before that practice revealed my students needed extra support. They had so many great ideas, but describing those ideas was a challenge for many. Additionally, some of my students were missing key concepts in what they were reading, or were reading too slowly to finish the assignment. I realized I needed to adjust instruction in my classroom to focus more on reading and writing mastery.
At first, my school principal and I worried that our students’ science achievement would suffer as a result of this change. But our KIPPsters gave us a very pleasant surprise—their science achievement actually rose once we put more focus on reading and writing. Confirming our belief – if students can read and write well, they have the foundation they need to succeed.
At KIPP, one of our teacher competencies in the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching (KFET) is Literacy for Everyone. This means that all teachers are reading teachers, no matter what subject they teach. With states across the country adopting the Common Core State Standards, we’re seeing that KIPP’s emphasis on literacy is in line with this new focus on college readiness.
To help educators prepare for the transition to Common Core, KIPP has designated Featured Teachers to share their best practices. As a KIPP Featured Teacher, I’m designing and sharing my curriculum with the KIPP network and incorporating many of the English-Language Arts Common Core State Standards into my plans. By focusing on ELA in my science classes, I hope to increase my students’ familiarity with nonfiction texts and deepen their reading comprehension. And by sharing my work with KIPP teachers across the KIPP network, I hope that their students will benefit as well.
In doing this work over the past six months, I have three pieces of advice for others shifting to the Common Core:
- Work Closely With Your ELA Teachers
Our science team has worked closely with our ELA team in order to bring best reading and writing strategies from ELA class into science class. It has made a huge impact on our students. Students are writing papers to respond to nonfiction texts at a higher level this year than they ever have before.
- Differentiation is Key
I use Achieve 3000 for articles, which allows me to sort reading material by difficulty using the Lexile Framework for Reading. I print out the same article on multiple Lexile (reading) levels to give to different groups of students reading at different levels. In this way, I can differentiate the level of complexity of research paper projects for different students according to their Lexile levels. Also, I often have students pre-read an Achieve article we will be using in class on their computer during blended learning time. The article is on their Lexile reading level and easy to understand. The next day, students will come to my class and reread the article on an upper 6th grade Lexile reading level. The pre-reading helps increase their confidence and understanding as we work to tackle tough texts!
- Make Reading and Writing a Priority
I know that reading and writing is an area where my students need to grow. Therefore, my instruction has changed to make literacy my top priority. I find myself often cutting lessons I had done in the past in order to add more writing and reading assignments. Last year, my students completed two week-long research assignments. This year I plan for them to complete at least five multi-paragraph research papers. Likewise, it is rare that I will have a lesson that does not include at least ten minutes of nonfiction reading and writing.
As a KIPP Featured Teacher, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about literacy with my fellow teachers. Throughout the transition to Common Core, and the process of “continuous improvement” that we pride ourselves on at KIPP, it’s exciting to see how bringing literacy into a science classroom can help students achieve in both.
Hilah is helping KIPP teachers across the network increase the rigor of their literacy instruction. She is a Teach For America 2014 Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award recipient. Students across the country will be better prepared for academic success as a result. Where will YOU take us?