American History and Content Area Literacy Institute

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Nell K. Duke, Researcher with a Heart
"All kids have prior knowledge. The question is, does it match what they are learning in school?"
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April 9th's Op-Ed in the The New York Times
Liz Phillips, Principal of P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, discussed this year's English Language Arts test and the need for transparency in standardized testing.
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Content Area Mini Institute
Each February, educators across the globe come to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project's Institute on Content Area Literacy.
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Independent Reading
What does upper grade and middle school independent reading look like, what does the research say, and how do you know if it's going well?
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Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing Rubric FAQs
In recent months, the TCRWP has fielded several questions about the assessment system.
Using Charts to Review and Reflect
Charts offer the perfect opportunity for review and reflection because they are the visual record of the teaching and learning that has occurred in any classroom.
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Regents Adjust Common Core Implementation
Read and find out about the adjustments that the state is planning around the implementation of the Common Core.
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Around the Room (and World): A View of Workshop Classrooms
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is delighted to present a series of video clips highlighting the work of teachers in their classrooms.
Reading Rescue
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has become the home for Reading Rescue, a powerful, tested approach to reading intervention. Read more...
TCRWP Twitter Book Chats
The TCRWP has established Twitter Chats every Wednesday evening from 7:30-8:30 EST."
How Can I Help at Home? 5 Ways to Support Your Child’s Reading and Writing Life
Parents often ask, "What can I do to help my child with reading and writing?"
Hej Hej (Hey Hey) from Gothenburg, Sweden!
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has been presenting Reading and Writing Institutes in Gothenburg, Sweden, the second largest city in Sweden, since 2009.
Reflecting on the TCRWP Coaching Writing Institute
“If you can imagine things aren’t quite what they seem, and dream of possibilities that only you can dream of, then anything can happen.” From Imagine by Bart Vivian
Educational Leadership: Unlocking Secrets of Complex Text
Read about teaching students about reading complex texts in last month's Educational Leadership. Mary Ehrenworth...
85th Annual Saturday Reunion

“And that’s how it all began. With a vacuum cleaner. Really.” And with this line, from Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, the 85th Teachers...
Revised performance assessments, grades K-8, are now available on our website. Click here for access to the files and updated information.
Our new website could do with help from you! Please click here to send us your feedback and suggestions. Thanks!

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TCRWP News · Latest
A Look Back at the TCRWP Argument Institute
April 18, 2014 at 3:26pm

Mary EhrenworthIn December 2013, the TCRWP hosted its first institute on argumentation. The week was kicked off at Teachers College, beginning with words from Lucy, followed by a keynote from Doug Reeves. During initial sessions, participants learned about the Project's collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS). In 2012, a group of staff developers from the TCRWP, a group of researchers from CBAL – the research arm of ETS, and a cadre of K-8 New York City classroom teachers and literacy coaches began a think tank in order to explore learning progressions in argumentation and ways to strengthen the argument writing and reading of elementary and middle school students. This institute, then, served as an opportunity for the TCRWP to share its current thinking about debate and argument within reading and writing workshop classrooms that has been developed as a result of the shared collaboration with CBAL, piloting and trying out argumentation work in schools as well as through the work of study groups and advanced summer Institute sections over the past years.

After learning about this collaboration, participants then tried the argument protocol developed by the think tank. In this case, participants studied Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, asking, "Is the Giving Tree strong or weak?" During this debate role play, participants were asked to suspend judgment, gather evidence on both sides, and then enter the debate ready to present their claim and rebut the counter-claim. The protocol ended with participants flash drafting argument essays. As they experienced this protocol, teachers, administrators and literacy leaders got a felt sense for the work that students are now doing as they strive to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards.

argumentationAfter a day at Teachers College, participants traveled to New York City schools where they watched staff developers lead this work with students in upper grade classrooms. Using a text set that included excerpts from Albert Marin's Oh, Rats!, students in grades 3-8, researched rats, asking, "Are rats helpful or harmful?" While many students were at first unsure of the ways rats could be helpful, through research they soon discovered several potential benefits. Rats could cure world hunger, help humans detect land mines after wars have been fought, and have been instrumental in medical research.

Realizing the debate is more complex than originally anticipated, students were nudged to create more nuanced claims on the third day of the institute, now thinking about the argument they must present to a particular audience. They anticipated what doctors and cooks might find compelling and convincing evidence when bolstering their claims.

As the students' arguments became more cohesive, logical and rooted in evidence, institute participants worked on lean coaching, finding ways to whisper in or call out prompts to help students orchestrate their argument skills and facilitate the experience of moving through the debate protocol.

Participants also got the chance to study new work in engaging in rounds of argument with the same texts, work which pushes students to more closely analyze craft and structure of texts. Further, participants were able to experience some of the new assessments in argumentation that CBAL is developing for ETS. They got the chance to step into the shoes of students taking the assessments and see what the future of assessments in argumentation is likely to be.

The week ended with a variety of workshops held at Teachers College as well as keynote addresses from Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy Director for Middle Schools at the TCRWP, and Deanna Kuhn. Kuhn is a distinguished professor at Teachers College and author of The Skills of Argument. She shared her research, supporting the idea that students need to see arguments in the world around them as well as arguments in texts they read, and then they need the space to craft claims and present their findings, ultimately learning how to make their voices heard. The ultimate goal is to help to foster students who will, in time, become empowered members of society.

To learn more about debates and to see students and teachers in action, you can view our classroom videos and read articles written by TCRWP staff developers.


Step by Step Guide in Creating Protocols: How to get Argument_Protocols_Up_and_Going_in_Reading_Workshop.pdf

Ways to Support Argument Essays: Looking_at_Students_ Argument_Essays_to_Plan_Instruction.pdf

Support Students' Speaking and Listening Skills: Arugment_Talk_Protocol.pdf

We have several reading and writing institutes this summer. Please click here for more information: tc-summer-institutes.html

We hope to host the argumentation institute again next year, so be sure to create a TCRWP account if you don't already have one and to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Nell K. Duke, Researcher with a Heart
April 8, 2014 at 2:55pm

"All kids have prior knowledge. The question is, does it match what they are learning in school?"

Nell K. DukeThis was just one of many memorable quotes participants jotted down as Nell K. Duke spoke to principals during their January conference at Teachers College. Duke is a professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Michigan. She is also the author of numerous articles and books on early literacy development, reading comprehension instruction, and informational reading and writing in the primary grades. Her research often focuses on children living in poverty and issues of equity in literacy instruction. Passionate about children and about research, Duke shared many insights about what is truly important when it comes to developing children's reading and comprehension skills.

Duke began by sharing her experiences and discoveries while being a part of the panel of researchers for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide on "Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade" ( The panel outlined five recommendations for what is most important to teach young children. While these suggestions were not surprising, the list reinforced what we all strive to do across our schools, including:

  • Teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies
  • Teach students to identify and use the text's organizational structure
  • Guide students through focused, high-quality discussion on the meaning of text
  • Select texts purposely to support comprehension development
  • Establish an engaging and motivating context in which to teach reading comprehension

Duke identified motivation and discussion as areas that compel further research, however anecdotal evidence strongly supports the importance of these key factors in strengthening reading ability in young children. What motivates kids to read? Purpose and choice. Kids need to have real reasons to read and choices of texts to read, but above all, they need to feel successful. There is also a positive relationship between a cooperative collaborative approach and literacy development.

Nell Duke gave some tips for bringing these suggestions into the classroom. For example, teach text structure early on by getting kids to think, "How does this author organize this text or this part?" With narrative structure, it is better to teach story elements: characters (and their thoughts, feelings, actions), setting, problem, and solution, than it is to teach "beginning, middle, end" sequence. After all, personality traits are what we want readers to attend to more than physical characteristics. Interactive read-aloud is another essential component of the primary classroom that increases comprehension, especially when higher-order questions and explanations are utilized. The quality of the questions and the active participation of the students affects positively on how kids comprehend and process texts. In addition, elaborating on children's comments helps develop vocabulary and oral language. In fact, according to Nell Duke, deliberate and systematic vocabulary instruction is the single greatest tool you can use to build comprehension, especially when words are talked about, acted out, used in book discussions, and used throughout the day and week (Scanlon, Anderson, & Sweeney, 2010, drawing on Beck, et al, 2002).

Finally, "a kid is not a level" summarized Nell Duke's thinking about the human side of teaching reading. If a child is interested in a topic he or she will read at a higher level and understand even better than a more proficient reader with little interest in the same topic. In one study, a group of readers were sorted by reading ability and then, interest in baseball (Jiménez and Duke 2011). They were then given books to read about baseball. The "poor readers" were better readers of these texts than the "good readers" even when the texts were considered too hard for the lower readers. She cautioned that if we want to push kids as far as they can go, we need to help them find texts of interest and to integrate literacy into the sciences and other areas that can spark curiosity and passion in our young readers, while also building conceptual and content knowledge. Research also shows that teachers make more difference than programs; so take heart, you can make all the difference when it comes to developing lifelong readers.

To read further articles and chapters by Nell Duke on the topic of reading comprehension and instruction you can access this link:

American History and Content Area Literacy Institute
April 7, 2014 at 3:13pm

Colonial Williamsburg and Teachers College Reading and Writing ProjectThis five-day institute is designed for American history teachers who have experience leading reading and writing workshops and want to do pioneer work in developing literacy-rich history curriculum. Participants will study early American history “on location” in Williamsburg, the restored capital city of 18th-century Virginia, while also thinking together about the intersection of best literacy practices and state of the art history instruction.

Find out more...

86th Spring Saturday Reunion
March 25, 2014 at 11:43am

packed auditorium and speaker On March 22, 2014 teachers from near and far gathered at Teachers College for the 86th TCRWP Saturday Reunion. The day began with three different keynote speakers. Shanna Schwartz, lead staff developer for the TCRWP, showed primary teachers the power of picture books and the ways that the same books could be used and reused to teach a variety of minilessons. Colleen Cruz, lead staff developer for the TCRWP, taught about the power of popular culture and provided teachers with ideas for how popular culture could be used to teach the most challenging work we tackle with students. Diane Ravitch, esteemed historian of education, gave the keynote address in Riverside Church. Frequently referring to her latest book, Reign of Error, Ravitch spoke about the need to fight for public education, against the misuse of standardized testing, and for appropriate interpretation and use of the Common Core State Standards. Throughout these keynotes, many listeners Tweeted highlights, allowing followers to track key points made by other speakers.

Following these keynote speeches, teachers moved across the college for the next four hours, choosing workshops given by Lucy Calkins, Carl Anderson, Kathy Collins, Stephanie Harvey, Mary Ehrenworth, Amanda Hartman, Laurie Pessah, Kathleen Tolan, all TCRWP staff developers, and many classroom teachers. The topics of these workshops ranged from word study for primary children to teaching students about interpretation and craft while reading and writing poetry, from shared reading to RTI, from supporting ELLs to nonfiction reading and research. In all, more than 145 workshops were offered and attended. The day ended with an uplifting and humorous closing by Kathy Collins.

Throughout the day, Twitter provided attendees with ways to share important notes from the speeches and workshops. For those following #TCRWP, it was an exciting way to connect and reinforce key points. These Tweets served as a way to connect the community during the day, but also to connect to TCRWP followers around the country who could not attend the reunion. Many of the attendees have also gone home and posted blog entries based on their experiences at the reunion, leading the way in continuing connections until the summer institutes begin in June. Thank you to all attendees, guest speakers, and TCRWP staff in making the day a huge success!

Content Area Mini Institute
March 17, 2014 at 1:43pm

packed auditorium and speakerEach February, educators across the globe come to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project's Institute on Content Area Literacy. Harvey Daniels opened the week with a keynote address that reminded listeners of the power and importance of writing. "Kids need to write. They need to write more than we could ever read," he advised while sharing examples of meaning-driven student writing. He also reminded participants about the importance of self-discovery in every classroom. "Inquiry is the process of turning the curriculum into questions that kids cannot resist." It was a perfect way to begin the institute.

the paired text centerAcross the institute, participants spent time in large groups, led by Kathleen Tolan and Amanda Hartman, and in smaller groups led by TCRWP staff developers. Each day ended with a variety of choice workshops. Participants in the primary sections began to explore a variety of science topics including properties of matter and living things. Upper grade participants focused on social studies and concentrated on the civil rights movement. As participants explored these topics, they learned about methods for teaching literacy in the content areas – taking on both the teacher and learner role at different points across the week.

Subsequent keynote speakers included Kylene Beers, Ellin Keene, and Kate Roberts. During her keynote on Tuesday, Kylene Beers emphasized the importance of improving students' comprehension and communication abilities. She emphasized the importance of student conversation and rereading. On Wednesday, Ellin Keene spoke about the importance of engagement, arguing, "We can teach engagement. It's a teachable concept. It's not just inherent where some kids have it and some kids don't." Further, she reminded participants that engagement is not the same as motivation or compliance, important considerations for all teachers. At the closing keynote on Thursday, Kate Roberts reminded us of the power of childhood and also of the importance of failure. She gave us 3 important tips: 1. Believe in Magic 2. Be Careful 3. Embrace failure (and keep trying until you make it). She said, "If we want our students to stay curious we need to create explorers and not test-takers, and adventurers and not memorizers."

To learn more about teaching literacy in the Content Areas in upper grades and middles school, click here:

To learn more about teaching into science centers in the lower grades, click here:

For information about other institutes happening this summer, click here:

The TCRWP offers the Content Area Institute every February. To learn more about this institute and other offerings, please be sure to create an account with the TCRWP and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.