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Teachers Mine 'Text Dependent' Questions For Basal Readers

Not long ago, we wrote about a project to revamp the teacher questions in the country's most popular basal readers. The idea, as you might recall, was to use the existing basal readers—since most districts and states can't cough up the cash for new ones just now—but rewrite the questions so they reflect the expectations of the Common Core State Standards.

Many of the questions that the basals suggest for teachers, they noticed, don't actually require students to read the text passages. They solicit students' feelings, or their unsupported opinions. The aim of rewriting the questions was to make them "text dependent"—one of the biggest areas of emphasis in the English/language arts standards—so that students have to grapple with the text in order to supply a solid answer. (Publishers have put out "common-core-aligned" versions of the basals, but not everyone agrees that the changes go deep enough to reflect the standards very well.)

When the Basal Alignment Project was beginning, how far it would reach was anyone's guess. Teachers from all over the country hunkered down behind big stacks of basals to write the first rounds of questions for grades 3-5, as I reported in a story last year. Little by little, they've built them into lessons. And they've assembled them in a free online bank at the social learning platform Edmodo.com.

It seems that this project has gotten some legs. The Council of the Great City Schools, the urban-school-districts organization that birthed the project with Student Achievement Partners—whose founders co-wrote the standards—says that nearly 11,000 teachers have been making use of the free Edmodo site. In a press release, the Council quotes Edmodo brass as saying the project is the biggest professional learning community on the site. And Council Executive Director Michael Casserly takes note of how quickly the idea has caught on, calling it "one of the most exciting outcomes" of the common-standards adoptions.

What's next for this initiative? Apparently it's the "Anthology Alignment Project", which will tackle creating common-core materials for the most popular ELA anthologies in grades 6-10. School districts are being recruited to participate in the project.


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