Monday, June 11, 2012

Five close reading strategies to support the Common Core

I walked in to my first college class, Political Science 101, eager to learn. For my inaugural college assignment, my professor asked the class to read the first three chapters of the textbook for the next class period. 
That night, I returned to my dorm room, determined to learn everything I could in those three chapters. I pulled out my textbook and highlighter. Growing up, that is what I always saw the “older kids” using when they read a textbook. In my na├»ve 18-year-old mind, I believed that highlighters must have some magical power that transports the words on the page directly to your brain. I assumed that if I just figured out the right words to highlight, then it would be easy for me to remember what I read.
However, when I opened my textbook it was unlike anything I had read in high school.  Where were the pictures? Where were the definitions for words in the margins? Where was the chapter summary at the end of each chapter? All of the things I relied on in high school to get me through a text were missing.
I shrugged, pulled out my highlighter and started highlighting. That is what college kids did to study… right? But, what was I supposed to highlight? The bold words? The headings? “Important” information? I wasn’t sure. I started highlighting everything that looked important on the page. Before long, the page looked something like this:

I quickly realized that I had no real game plan for reading this complicated textbook. I didn’t know what to highlight or how to find the important information to study. The text simply overwhelmed me.
Flash forward to my first few years of teaching. I taught senior English, and I was determined to provide my students help when it came to annotating texts. We practiced annotations throughout the year, and my instructions went something like: “Mark it up! Underline important information! Write in the margins!”
While this method may have been slightly more effective than what I used that first day of college, it was still too vague and ambiguous for my students. They had no direction for reading, especially when it was a complicated text they did not understand.
Last fall, I attended an AVID workshop about critical reading strategies. To be honest, it completely changed the way I teach reading. I learned many simple strategies to help my students attack a text. After the conference, our department began adapting the strategies to all of the types of texts that we teach. Here are five simple strategies to help teach students how to critically read complex texts. The best part? Highlighters are not required.

1. Number the paragraphs
The Common Core asks students to be able to cite and refer to the text. One simple way to do this is by numbering each paragraph, section or stanza in the left hand margin. When students refer to the text, I require them to state which paragraph they are referring to. The rest of the class will be able to quickly find the line being referred to. 

2. Chunk the text.
When faced with a full page of text, reading it can quickly become overwhelming for students. Breaking up the text into smaller sections (or chunks) makes the page much more manageable for students. Students do this by drawing a horizontal line between paragraphs to divide the page into smaller sections.
At the beginning of the year, I group the paragraphs into chunks before I hand out the assignment. In the directions I will say, “Chunk paragraphs 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12.” I look at the paragraphs to see where natural chunks occur. Paragraphs 1-3 may be the hook and thesis statement, while 6-8 may be the paragraphs where the author addresses the opposition. It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to chunk the text, as long as you can justify why you grouped certain paragraphs together.
By the end of the year, I begin to let go of that responsibility and ask my students to chunk the text on their own. They number the paragraphs then must make decisions about what paragraphs will be grouped together. Usually, most of the class is very similar in the way they chunked the text.

3. Underline and circle… with a purpose.
Telling students to simply underline “the important stuff” is too vague. “Stuff” is not a concrete thing that students can identify. Instead, direct students to underline and circle very specific things. Think about what information you want students to take from the text, and ask them to look for those elements. What you have students circle and underline may change depending on the text type.
For example, when studying an argument, ask students to underline “claims”. We identify claims as belief statements that the author is making. Students will quickly discover that the author makes multiple claims throughout the argument.
When studying poetry, students could underline the imagery they find throughout the poem.
Circling specific items is also an effective close reading strategy. I often have my students circle “Key terms” in the text. I define key terms as words that: 1. Are defined. 2. Are repeated throughout the text. 3. If you only circled five key terms in the entire text, you would have a pretty good idea about what the entire text is about.
I have also asked students to circle the names of sources, power verbs, or figurative language.
Providing students with a specific thing you want them to underline or circle will focus their attention on that area much better than “underlining important information”.

4. Left margin: What is the author SAYING?
It isn’t enough to ask students to “write in the margins”. We must be very specific and give students a game plan for what they will write. This is where the chunking comes into play.
In the left margin, I ask my students to summarize each chunk. I demonstrate how to write summaries in 10-words or less. The chunking allows the students to look at the text in smaller segments, and summarize what the author is saying in just that small, specific chunk.

5. Right margin: Dig deeper into the text  
In the right-hand margin, I again direct my students to complete a specific task for each chunk. This may include:
·     Use a power verb to describe what the author is DOING. (For example: Describing, illustrating, arguing, etc..) Note: It isn’t enough for students to write “Comparing” and be done. What is the author comparing? A better answer might be: “Comparing the character of Montag to Captain Beatty”.
·     Represent the information with a picture. This is a good way for students to be creative to visually represent the chunk with a drawing.
·     Ask questions. I have found this to be a struggle for many students, as they often say they don’t have any questions to ask. When modeled, students can begin to learn how to ask questions that dig deeper into the text. I often use these questions as the conversation driver in Socratic Seminar.
There are many other things students can write in the margins. However, we must model and teach these strategies so that students will have an idea of what to write when they are on their own.
Here is what a completed Article of the Week might look like after a student has performed a close read of it:
To ensure our students are college and career ready, we must teach them critical reading strategies in order for them to independently attack a text. They must learn how to own a text, rather than letting the text own them. After following these steps, students have read the text at least five times and they are actively interacting with the text. This is a much different experience than skimming through a text one time with a highlighter in hand.
What strategies do you teach students in order for them to critically read complex texts? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Missouri's 4-Verts Concept

The University of Missouri's Offensive Coordinator David Yost recently spoke at a coaching clinic about their 4-Vertical concept. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the clinic, but our head coach got a copy of his presentation.

There is some good stuff below, especially some creative ways to run 4-Verts out of Empty sets (Essentially FIVE-Verts).

2x2 4-Verts:

3x1 4-Verts

2x2 "Swap":

3x1 "Cross":

Empty 5-Verts:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

OU "Drive" Concept

Our staff attended the football coaching clinic at the University of Oklahoma this weekend. Thursday night, Coach Jay Norvell spoke about their crossing concepts. He talked through their Mesh and Shallow concepts, and showed a ton of cut-ups.

One new (for me at least) play that he showed was the "Drive" concept out of Trips. It is basically Trips Right H-Shallow - but with one difference: The RB checks his pass pro to the left, then goes through the OL and meshes with H.

The QB reads it: 1. H - Drive (Coach called this route "Drive"), 2. Y-Dig, 3. RB "Burst" (essentially Mesh). This is just a triangle read for the QB - they do not have him look deep.

It looks very close to Franklin's "Pyramid" concept where two receivers mesh, and there is a Dig over the top of it.

This really becomes a nice blend of Mesh, Shallow and Pyramid. They also ran it out of Bunch.

We noticed that this must be a big 1st down call for them - the RB never had to stay in and help protect.

We have our Y and X mesh when we run normal Mesh. Would this concept work if Y and the RB meshed, and H ran the dig behind it?

Does anyone run something similar to this concept?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Y-Corner powered by R4

As a follow up to my previous post "Going Deep with the Shallow Cross", I wanted to show how the R4 principles have given us the opportunity for huge plays with the Air Raid "Y-Corner" concept.

We have borrowed from the ideas of "Y-Corner" and the Snag or Scat concept to make it our own. Coach Brophy has a great breakdown of the concept, with video from Coach Brewer and Coach Mazzone. 

Here is another great breakdown of the concept from Coach Brown on Smart Football.

A few of our coaching points at Olathe Northwest:

Here is video of the concept from the 2011 season. Notice, we did not throw the Check-Release/Bubble at all. Our QB threw either the Corner or the Snag route almost every time, giving us bigger plays.

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Below are older cut-ups from my old school. Notice, we never threw the Y-Corner route (However, Texas Tech does on the first play). This was before we started coaching the "Capped/Uncapped" principles. We still had completions, but they were for much shorter gains.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Teaching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Common Core-Style

For the first eight years of my teaching career, my Shakespare daily lesson plans went something like this:

"Good morning! Turn to Act II Scene 1 on page 234. I'm going to push play on the CD, let's listen to a few lines..." 

(Actors performing while students follow along for about 30 seconds. Pause CD.) 

Me: "Ok, what just happened there?" (The same 2-3 students telling me the plot.) "Great! Let's continue on..."

Once in awhile, I would have the students act out a scene or two... but that usually led to monotone recitations and awkward moments helping students pronounce words.

I think many people would relate to these methods. In essence, I was a human Cliff's Notes, regurgitating the plot to the point that we only studied the surface of the story. I usually had the same 2-3 students respond, and when I called on other students I usually got a response that went something like, "I have NO idea what they are talking about!"

We were studying the play a mile wide and an inch deep. That is how my teachers in high school taught me Shakespeare, so that must be the best way. Right?

This year, my English II colleague Blake Revelle and I decided to try something completely different when we taught Julius Caesar. With the onset of the Common Core State Standards, we asked ourselves: "What is more important: That our students know all of the plot details of Julius Caesar, or they know how to read, write and talk about a complex text, no matter what text it is?"

An inch-wide, and a mile-deep
We felt like the answer was clear: In 10 years, it will be far more important for our students to know how to annotate, analyze and explain a complex text they have to read for work or college, rather than be able to answer plot questions or create a poster with all of the characters.

Our mantra became, "We will teach an inch-wide and a mile-deep." 

We decided to go deeper into fewer scenes. Students weren't going to get as much of the plot, but that was not our goal. The text just served as a vehicle to teach concepts in reading, writing and speaking that would prepare them for college and their career.

Going into the unit, we decided to only focus on four of the speeches from the play. We spent about a week studying each piece, and we had our students read & annotate the speeches, write about them, then discuss them through a Socratic Seminar.

We kept it simple: Read it. Write about it. Talk about it.

This unit hit on virtually every one of the Common Core State Standards for reading, writing and speaking. 

Each week followed a consistent schedule:

  • Explain what happened in the plot since the last speech we studied. Video SparkNotes was a great resource for this.
  • View a video performance of the speech we were going to study
  • Read/annotate the speech. Students circled key terms and underlined claims.
  • Chart the text: In the left margin, write what the author is SAYING (summarize). In the right margin, write what the author is DOING (analyze). 
Wednesday/Thursday (90-minute block)
  • Timed writing assignment - using templates.
  • Socratic Seminar
Here are the materials we used:

1. Cassius' speech to Brutus (I.ii)
Text for annotation
Writing template

2. Brutus' soliloquy (II.i)
Text for annotation
Writing template

3. Brutus' funeral speech
Text for annotation

4. Antony's funeral speech
Text for annotation

5. Synthesis paper
Graphic organizer to answer the question: "Who delivered the more effective speech: Mark Antony or Marcus Brutus?"
  • Students developed this into a 2-3 page argument, citing the text and backing up their claim.
This unit was extremely effective for teaching students the skills they will need to critically read and write about complex texts, as the Common Core asks us to.
  • In past years, students would say things like, "I don't understand Shakespeare. It is written in another language." The close reading strategies taught them to closely analyze what they DID know about the text, and make their own inferences. 
  • All students were engaged. They could not just sit back and let other people answer the questions. They had to dig into the text, summarizing, making inferences, asking questions. This definitely ups the rigor in studying Shakespeare.
  • Students did not rely on me to tell them the plot. It became completely self-driven, with the students asking and answering their own questions.
  • In the course of a six weeks, we wrote two short papers and one longer paper. The quality of these papers were the best I had ever seen. The templates served as a guide to help their thinking, and it went far beyond plot and surface-level thinking.
  • Students gained confidence in analyzing complex texts. I equate it to lifting weights: In order to get stronger, you have to lift heavier weight. Now that they can read and analyze Shakespeare, other readings will seem easy.
How have you begun to modify your units to fit the Common Core State Standards?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Going deep with the Shallow Cross

The Shallow Cross series has always been a staple of the Air Raid offense. When we first installed the series, it was basically a high-low concept on the linebackers. It was good for a 10-15 yard gain by either hitting the Dig or Shallow Cross. There was very little vertical threat, even though there are two vertical routes packaged in the play (Fade and a Post). I have heard the architects of the Air Raid say that the Fade or Post deserve little more than a "peek" from the QB, and the real focus was on the Shallow/Dig combination.

Last summer, I purchased From Headset to Helmet: Coaching the R4 Expert System from Coach Dub Maddox and Coach Darin Slack. Quite simply, this book made our offense exponentially more explosive, starting with the Shallow Cross Series.

No matter what offense you coach, I would highly recommend this book. It helped me see the passing game in an entirely different light, and gave my QBs a decision-making process to follow that is consistent and easy-to-understand. (Note: If you are an opponent of ours, don't waste your time... It really won't help you much.)

When I speak with other Air Raid coaches about the Shallow series, they struggle with how to coach or teach the deep throws to the fade or post. I was in the same boat until a year ago. I told my QB to "peek" at the fade, but warned him that "he better be open if he is going to throw it!" I had very little confidence in our QBs making that throw, which of course meant the QB was never going to go deep. The R4 system has simplified the decision-making process, and it allows us to take downfield shots when the defense is giving it to us.

Why we like the Shallow Cross:
  • Vertical and horizontal stretch on the defense: We want to make the defense cover the entire field, and the Shallow forces the defense to defend sideline-to-sideline, and vertically downfield.
  • Versatility: It is good play versus any coverage, man or zone. It is also good on virtually any down and distance. 
  • Big play capabilities: A year ago before I read the R4 book, we had only five "explosive" plays of 30 yards or more. This year, after reading the book, we had 25. That is a huge improvement, and many of those explosive plays came on the Shallow Cross. 
  • Easy throws to our playmakers in space: You don't have to have a huge arm to throw this concept if you know what the defense is doing and how to attack it. 
We always run Shallow out of 2x2, tagging either of our inside receivers (T or Y) on the Shallow. Here are the rules for the play:

To understand the big-play capabilities, you must understand the concept of "Cap" and "Uncapped" from the R4 book. I don't want to give away the secret sauce, so I would recommend getting the book to fully understand what those concepts mean. Simply put, it helps your QB quickly decide if he can make deep throws or not. Here is a presentation that explains each of the reads with the idea of "Cap":

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Note about the film: We were fortunate to have a 6'10 receiver at Z that will play basketball at Kentucky next year. That helped. However, you can see that our QB was confident in taking deep shots because of the "Capped/Uncapped" principle. In fact, we only threw to the Shallow route once all year.

What other wrinkles do you have that help you make the Shallow a successful route? Feel free to ask any questions below.