Common Core Reading Assessment Analyzed

As the Common Core Standards attempt to put rigor and relevance back into reading programs, students will be assessed on their ability to analyze primary source documents. This is one of the six major shifts – an increase in reading informational texts from the 9-15% they are currently reading in their elementary reading anthologies to 70% of a high school day they will be expected to spend reading informational texts across core curricular areas. The following is an example of an assessment of Reading Informational Text (RI) at a sixth grade level.

Students trace the line of argument in Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” address to Parliament and evaluate his specific claims and opinions in the text, distinguishing which claims are supported by facts, reasons, and evidence, and which are not. [RI.6.8]” ELA Common Core Standards Appendix B p. 91.

Immediately California history teachers recognize that this sixth grade reading assessment is a California tenth grade history-social science standard. Clearly sixth graders are not expected to master the history standards to be able to do the task, but just as obviously, they will not have the background knowledge to thoroughly understand the context of this document. Teachers then ponder what they are supposed to do with this dilemma.

I have used this task as an example with many groups of teachers and administrators to show the need :

• for teaching history-social studies regularly at all grade levels
• for teachers to have time to analyze how they would tackle difficult reading tasks
• to create a sense of urgency that students have to spend more time reading difficult material
• for teaching social studies specific strategies for understanding informational texts

When I first looked at this prompt, all my training as a history teacher flew out the window as I was blinded by the task not aligning to the state standards. Once I got over the initial shock, I reverted back to known territory – and used the tools I know. I will walk through this reading prompt as I presented it to teachers and administrators K-12, highlighted by how I would teach it to students as a practice sample in my language arts class or self-contained sixth grade class. This is important to practice because students need to know how to read difficult texts, even when the topic is unfamiliar to them.

The Task:

“Students trace the line of argument in Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” address to Parliament and evaluate his specific claims and opinions in the text, distinguishing which claims are supported by facts, reasons, and evidence, and which are not.”

Before they begin addressing any task, students need to reread it carefully. This will help them find specific words to explain and clarify the task. In this case all they have to do is to distinguish 1. What are Churchill’s claims? 2) Which claims are factual? 3) Which claims are not factual? (By definition a claim is something that one is asserting to be a fact, so the students looking words that seem like facts, but are not.)

Middle school teachers had no difficulty attacking this task and coming up with solutions, where teachers of other grade levels were somewhat overwhelmed. By and large middle school history teachers approached this task from a language arts perspective. As a language arts teacher, I recognize that there are some Tier Two words in this task information that I would teach because they are important for more than just this test: claim – assertion of something as a fact, address – meaning a speech, and braces – meaning to gain strength to stand against a strong force. I would simply remind students that Parliament a legislative body in England, just like Congress is in the United States, and that people from Britain are called Britons just like people from Mexico are called Mexicans. If I was not going to just teach to the test, as a language arts teacher, I would make a note to myself that my students need to read public addresses as part of my language arts program.

The Source:

“Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Address to Parliament on May 13th, 1940.”Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, 3rd Edition. Edited by William Safire. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. (1940) From “Winston Churchill Braces Britons to Their Task”

When I gave this task to teachers, I did not give them any tools except to have the task and the speech printed in large font double spaced so they could write on it, and analyze what they did to make meaning of the text. I read the speech aloud to some groups, and that made a difference about how quickly they were able to distinguish emotion-laden words. However, the next time I present this task to teachers, I will give them a choice of tools to use, and have them discuss how those worked. With students, though, I would want to help them gain a thorough understanding of the prompt and to read as a historian. I would want them to learn to question the author. There are many tools recommended by different authors. I will only mention a few here.

APPARTS: author, (place& time), prior knowledge, audience, reason, main idea, significance
• Text, Context, Subtext: (Lesh, 2011)
• Evaluating Historical Opinions: (Lesh, 2011)
Fact v Opinion Chart
If I taught history or multiple subjects and I was teaching this to students, I would have them fill out the APPARTS Chart as best they could and then share in groups before they read the document. Sharing is the best way they can build background knowledge painlessly. They find out, not only what they know, but start questioning what they don’t know or might want to learn. Building curiosity by not answering all their questions gives them a motivation to read. I might also have another source for them to read after they do this that provides a bit of background for them. If they were already used to the APPARTS Chart, I might use Lesh’s form, Evaluating Historical Opinions, or use the Fact v Opinion T Chart form so students are looking at the words themselves.

However, as a language arts teacher, teaching history is not my main goal, and I merely want the students to be able to pick out fact from fiction using the language, so I would use the Fact v Opinion Chart. I might give them the background information after they read to confirm their findings. Further, I might play a YouTube video with the actual voice of Churchill as well as primary source video from the time period for the students that are second language learners. I would save this step for after the document has been analyzed to serve as a validation and not a scaffold. Students might then reanalysed the document based on hearing the speech and compare their findings.

The Primary Source Document:

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.

Once the teachers analyzed and discussed the speech from a language arts perspective, looking at the structure of the speech which uses repetition, and for descriptive adjectives and nouns, it was a simple matter for them to do the task. Almost everyone did the task quickly, and they could have written about it, or answered multiple choice questions. This task does not specify how the students are supposed to demonstrate their learning, or what is an acceptable to prove their mastery. I would work with the teachers in my district to create rubrics for this task and others. Rubistar is a website that has a free rubric creation tool that is easy to modify.

Common Core Standards by its strong informational text requirements leads most consultants to recommend teaching history-social studies and science regularly in elementary classrooms. This is can be achieved in elementary grades by simply substituting teaching from the social studies text book or using other available non-fiction sources during reading language arts time. It is important to understanding the Common Core Standards that students also understand History Analysis Skills. Questioning strategies, alternative literature aligned specifically to California’s standards can be found in the document, The California Common Core Language Arts/History-Social Science Implementation Toolkit, available online at no cost at

Ideally, from an accountability standpoint, students should practice using primary source documents from the time period that aligns to the state history-social science standards. In California, starting in 5th grade the standards are studied chronologically, divided between U.S. History and World History, so this makes reading primary sources more difficult because the style of writing changes over time. It charges younger students with the responsibility to read writing from older periods in history. While historians wince at the idea of making changes to the primary source documents, successful teachers and professors shorten them to make understanding the documents attainable.

As the Common Core shifts happen, and students read more and more informational texts, students will slowly realize that their own thinking, using imagination alone is an untrustworthy method for understanding history, and for understanding informational texts about history.

People Can Be Blunt

When I was young, I was taught that with age comes respect.

That meant as a kid I called people who were older than 25 Mr. and Mrs.   It also meant that I was taught to be less than honest.  I mean really I couldn’t  imagine telling my grandma she had a booger showing in her nose.  I just looked away because it was so gross hoping that she would have to go to the bathroom or something.

So fast forward till now I’m the grandma.  I am officially the oldest person in our office.  (and I’m young!)  Same respect???  Same lies???  Here’s my story.

I love Dress Barn.  The 20s something clerk helped me pick out all the right dresses and fashion accessories so that I wouldn’t look like the oldest one in the office.   – Just get the respect.  You see where this is going?

I wore my first new outfit to work the next day –  brown pants, shirt and a beautiful wool jacket with a fluffy collar.  All the women oohed and ahhed when I walked to my office.  I spun around proudly modeling as I walked to my office.  Their admiration was palpable.  Feeling buoyed by their enthusiastic response to my new wardrobe choice, I stopped at the doorway of my fellow consultant, and said, “What do you think, Jon?  Do you like my new outfit?”

He was silent longer than I thought was necessary for a simple, “Wow I love it!  You look great,” which honestly was what I was expecting.  Finally he gave his opinion, “Well……,”more pausing.  I lost my sexy, hand on hip, other hand flipping my hair stance, and should have walked away at that point.  “It’s brown,” he finally finished lamely.

Yes, that was lame, but the rest of the office heard my fashion critic, and I’m sure our laughter could be heard in the basement.

The next day I walked in with, what I thought was my best outfit.  My green sweater dress was accented by a full length gray knitted vest with, yes a fluffy collar that went down both sides of the front the full length of the sweater.  The fluff even had dangly things woven in that subtly caught the light.  I felt like a glamour queen.  Again, the women complimented me, and again I twirled, avoiding Jon’s office this time.

Later in the day another consultant approached my door, and asked me to come to his office.  We have unspoken rules of etiquette in our office.  When another consultant comes to you and wants to talk, even if you are presenting to 600 people in 15 minutes, you stop what you are doing, and invite them to sit down and tell you what’s on his or her mind.  I followed him to his office.

“Close the door, and sit down,” he instructed seriously, and before I could even worry about what was going wrong in the office – and worrying is my default mode – he added, “Has anyone talked to you about your colors?”

Glenn is always up to something, so, of course I lied, “NO!”

“Well, someone should!”   I couldn’t believe I was hearing this!  This went against every grain of respect my parents had drilled into my well-ordered life.  Glenn is at least 3 years younger than I am – how could he???

But he continued pointing at a picture on his bookcase, “Do you see that picture of my wife?  That is my favorite picture of her, and do you know why?”  Actually his wife is my good friend – everybody’s good friend, and she is adorable, why wouldn’t that be his favorite picture?  She looked like she was about 20.

He was getting passionate.  “I’ll tell you why!  It’s her colors.  She hates that picture, but I love it.  Do you see what she is wearing?  Pink.  Do you see how great that makes her face look?  My wife needs color.  That color makes her look great!”  By this time I’m sure everyone on Doe Avenue could hear his voice.  “YOU NEED TO LOSE THE GRAY!  I guess the green is OK,” he hung his head a little sheepishly, “but YOU NEED TO LOSE THE GRAY!” he jutted his chin back up, and repeated his advice a second time for emphasis.

By this time I was reeling.  I staggered out of his office doubled over, and laughed as hard as I could along with everyone else within a 10 mile hearing radius.

There really isn’t a moral to this story.  I sometimes tell it to loosen up an audience before I present.  I try to wear gray every day during the winter – at least a bit of it.  I get lots of compliments when I wear blue or turquoise – pink.  I still shop at Dress Barn.  But people can be blunt – even when you’re old enough for people to lie to you.

One Lovely Blog Award

I feel like I have arrived!

Cherry tree, bee and me – I’m the invisible one behind the camera.

Rlcarson ,, just nominated my blog for the Lovely Blog Award! Thanks so much! Renee and Pallas have some of the most amazing cloud and sunset pictures ever. Yesterday I had the hardest time writing, and had more readers than any day except the first, and I think most of those readers were me editing. I enjoy R’s blog, and especially his last comment when he nominated me (hehe!) It’s amazing to me to be out there writing and having someone respond – much better than a journal!! Thanks so much!

Pass it on!

These are the rules for receiving this award:

1.) Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.  (See above)

2.) Share 7 things about yourself.

• I love to learn.
• I love to teach as I am learning, not when I am already an expert.
• I am never an expert.
• I love to write.
• I love to eat, but cooking, not so much.
• I walked in a three-day 60 mile Sarah G. Komen Race for the Cure when before it had any bad publicity.
• I love a great story, so sometimes I exaggerate. I know – you’re shocked! I don’t exaggerate much. Stories are better when you don’t have to make them up – just slant them slightly.

3.) Nominate 15 or so bloggers you admire.

In no particular order, here are the 15 blogs that I have most enjoyed during my short blogging journey.

4.) Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know.

That is the time-consuming, but interesting part. Some of the sites you may not get back to as regularly as you mean to do, so this is a great way to revisit those who have encouraged you along the way. Thanks so much to all of you, and especially my nominator

Blogger’s Block

So what have you accomplished today, Marsha?

I can’t even answer that question to get me out of blocked status.  My new blog buddy, Cristian from Romania, reminds me that writers have to write.  So I wrote comments on all my Facebook friend’s posts.  I looked at all the new posts of all my followers, and wrote comments on their posts.   Still had blocked brain.  Then I clicked on THEIR blog comments, and checked out at those people’s blogs.  I found some impressive blogs, and dribbled a few more comments from my brain.  Still nothing bloggable for my own new post.   Here are a few of blogs I liked:, , – Be sure to check out Promenade in the Rain on her blog – very funny!

I looked for a picture to use to symbolize writer’s block online.  Nothing pleased me.  I asked my husband to take a picture of me with blogger’s block.  He just looked at me like I was nuts.  I haven’t combed my hair today.  I have really, it just doesn’t look like it.  He was too kind to take of picture of blogger’s blog in his own house.  OK, he wasn’t kind, but the picture was worse than blogger’s blog!  Like the furrowed forehead?

Since my creative brain was being dysfunctional, I focused on mechanics.  I looked at blog background colors, and tried about 16.  BORING.  I went online and checked out background patterns.

I chose 6, and tried uploading one.  It came out in the left hand corner of my blog only.  Now, I’m not only blocked, but frustrated as well.  I left it off, but it is aMAZing, don’t you think?

I also added widgets to my blog.  While I was snooping around other people’s colorful and inspiring blogs, I looked at their widgets.  I added a category cloud, top posts, and a gravitar to my blog.  Six whole words in my entire cloud!  I was expecting about 2 inches of margin to be consumed in my many words like I saw during my blogging cruise.  But no, six words.  So I checked my list of categories – only six.  So now I know, tags and categories are NOT the same thing.

Next, I looked at customizing appearance.  I tried different fonts.  Nothing seemed to fit, so I left things the same.  Besides I couldn’t remember if Frank said to use serif or sans serif for headings.  I looked through all my notes, and I had forgotten to take notes.  So I decided that WordPress knew best.  However, one bright spot is that for some reason now I have two rows of format buttons across the top of my new post.

I hate to say it, but that cheered me up.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have something worth saying to say.  Sorry faithful readers!  (Dennis, Mary and Paula, and sometimes Elo, Laurie,  and Cindy.)

Old Sacramento

I don’t know how a person can turn a fun day into a boring article, but I’ve started this at least three times, and I have succeeded in boring even myself all three times.

I could just describe the site of my story, and let you take guesses about where it takes place, but the title was the one good thing I started writing, and I refused to edit it.  So I ruined that serendipitous moment.  I wanted to tell you all about my pictures of Evangeline’s Costume Mansion, but I forgot to resize my pictures, and they wouldn’t load fast enough, so in the interim I started writing about paying $20 for parking, then getting  lost.  That’s an exaggeration.  No, not the parking fee.  You can’t get lost if you have a working a cell phone.  If you can’t read a map, or the directions, or even if you can, and you can’t see your husband, if you are conspicuous enough, he will see you and text you, “Look to your left.”  There he was waiting to eat at Railroad Fish and Chips at 1100 Front Street.

But Evangeline’s really was the shop that grabbed my attention.  At work I am planning a student event in Allensworth, a turn of the century freedom colony State Historic Park in southern Tulare County, and my fellow planners want to bring the historic state park to life by training 150 African-American teen docents to be the townspeople resplendent with turn of the century costumes.  So when I saw costumes in this old west town, I thought, “Perfect, I’ll find just the costumes I need to bring Allensworth to life.”

I walked in and was greeted by the saloon girl up on the shelf.  She probably gets her feathers ruffled by the air conditioning blowing on her all the time, but she never complained while I was there.

Sally pointed the way with her cane to the Old West Room.  This was the room if you wanted to look like Sally.

I was pretty sure that we didn’t want 75 young teen-aged female students looking like Sally.  For a little bit more respectable look, you could walk out the door and into the hall.   However, the key words here were “a little bit”.  Still not quite right for a student event for teaching local second to fourth graders about California’s only all African-American freedom colony, founded by Col. Allensworth, a retired Army chaplain.  Fortuitously, there were more rooms.

 Unfortunately, the rooms had different themes, and none of them quite fit the Allensworth I had envisioned.  It was an interesting diversion, though.  For someone feeling a little more militant, and a little pessimistic about the air quality in California, then this might be the perfect costume topper.

Of course there were boots or shoes to go with every costume.

Ladies, right this way. Boots and gloves to go with your gas mask.

Now, if you want to go even higher in the line of military gear, you can go to the very top.

Arnold, what are you doing in with this bunch? You are the terminator, not the Commander-in-Chief.

Maybe you’ve felt a bit off your game, a little strange, out of it even.  Have they got the costume for you!
I AM smiling.

Just hope you don’t land in the hospital.

If you do I hope you find someone helpful to fit into  these shoes.
There were bloody legs and heads, police helmets and badges and more shoes,  but after that I thought I’d better find my ride back to the real world.  
So I headed back to the street to call my husband, but I got side-tracked.
About then my cell phone vibrated me, “Look to your left.”  It was time to go back home.