Archives for category: ELA

Irvington Insight – Flipped Classrooms: A Model That Turns Learning on Its Head | 1.2014

I’m still waiting for an “Irvington Insight” devoted to the new classics-heavy assigned reading list parents have spent the past 20 years lobbying for.

Curriculum director: I am a child-centered professional
Response to administrator technology memo
IEF off-cycle grant: “Exploring and expanding our use of technology in
the classrooms”

Wrong track
“Our goal”
The digital natives are restless
Flipped classrooms (and more) in IUFSD
Email from an NYU student on his experience in a flipped classroom
John D on flipped classrooms and board policy
Buying technology – business v. schools

Perhaps the best way to convey how rigorous the humanities are at Hunter is to list some of the texts that 7th graders read in their humanities class a few years ago. Students read widely from original sources such as The Prince by Machiavelli, The Republic by Plato, and Two Treatises on Civil Government by John Locke (as well as many other, less well-known, documents of similar difficulty).
A realistic view of Hunter College High

Students reading well above and well below grade-band level need additional support. Students for whom texts within their text complexity grade band (or even from the next higher band) present insufficient challenge must be given the attention and resources necessary to develop their reading ability at an appropriately advanced pace. On the other hand, students who struggle greatly to read texts within (or even below) their text complexity grade band must be given the support needed to enable them to read at a grade-appropriate level of complexity.
Appendix A: Research Supporting Key Elements of the [Common Core] Standards p9

Excerpt from Sandra Stotsky’s The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum:


The Brearley School is a highly regarded private school for academically strong girls in Manhattan. Brearley’s intellectually rigorous and coherent literature curriculum is the kind of curriculum that should be available in our public schools to a majority of students starting in grade 8 or 9. The amont of writing done and responded to by teachers in thie particular private school may well reflect the low teacher-student ratios that high tuition makes possible, but the rationale for the titles assigned is independent of tuition costs.

Grade 6

  • Folk Tales (summer reading continued into the fall): A large number are read and a few are selected for class discussion. They include: “The Valiant Chattee-Maker” (Indian), “The Young Head of the Family” (Chinese), and “The Wonderful Tar-Baby” (African-American).
  • Ballads: Five Scottish ballads—“Sir Patrick Spens,” “Edward, Edward,” “Mary Hamilton,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “Barbra Allen,” the last two having available English counterparts.
  • Book of Genesis, King James Version, with some abridgement.
  • Greek mythology, based on selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, The Iliad, and The Homeric Hymns.
  • The Odyssey

The grade 6 curriculum, like the curricula of other grades, is the product of the collective wisdom of many teachers over many years. All Brearley teachers teach at three or four different grade levels simultaneously. While such variety refreshes the teacher, it serves a more important purpose. It means that students receive instruction from teachers who know what their students will go on to learn and what they have already learned; texts read in one grade can be confidently referred to in another grade.

Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)

From the Core Knowledge sequence for Grade 8:

Note: The poems listed here constitute a selected core of poetry for this grade. You are encouraged to expose students to more poetry, old and new, and to have students write their own poems. Students should examine some poems in detail, discussing what the poems mean as well as asking questions about the poet’s use of language.

  • Buffalo Bill’s (e.e. cummings)
  • Chicago (Carl Sandburg)
  • Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (Dylan Thomas)
  • How do I love thee? (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
  • How They Brought the Good News From Ghent to Aix (Robert Browning)
  • I dwell in possibility; Apparently with no surprise (Emily Dickinson)
  • The Lake Isle of Innisfree (William B. Yeats)
  • Lucy Gray (or Solitude); My Heart Leaps Up (William Wordsworth) Mending Wall; The Gift Outright (Robert Frost)
  • Mr. Flood’s Party (Edward Arlington Robinson)
  • Polonius’s speech from Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be…” (William Shakespeare)
  • Ozymandias (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
  • Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee. . .” (William Shakespeare) Spring and Fall (Gerald Manley Hopkins)
  • A Supermarket in California (Allen Ginsberg) Theme for English B (Langston Hughes)
  • We Real Cool (Gwendolyn Brooks)


  • Review:
  • Meter
  • Iamb
  • Rhyme scheme
  • Free verse
  • Couplet
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Review:
  • Forms:
  • Ballad
  • Sonnet
  • Lyric
  • Narrative
  • Limerick
  • Haiku stanzas and refrains
  • Types of rhyme:
  • End
  • Internal
  • Slant
  • Eye
  • Metaphor and simile, including extended and mixed metaphors
  • Imagery, symbol, personification
  • Allusion
  • Review:
  • Forms: ballad, sonnet, lyric, narrative, limerick, haiku
  • Stanzas and refrains
  • Types of rhyme: end, internal, slant, eye
  • Metaphor and simile
  • Extended and mixed metaphors
  • Imagery, symbol, personification

Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama

  • “The Bet” (Anton Chekov)
  • “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  • “God Sees the Truth But Waits” (Leo Tolstoy)
  • “An Honest Thief” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  • “The Open Boat” (Stephen Crane)


  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)


  • Review:
  • Plot and setting
  • Theme
  • Point of view in narration: omniscient narrator, unreliable narrator, third person limited, first person
  • Conflict: external and internal suspense and climax
  • Characterization
  • As delineated through a character’s thoughts, words, and deeds; through the narrator’s description; and through what other characters say
  • Flat and round; static and dynamic motivation
  • Protagonist and antagonist
  • Tone and diction


  • “Ask not what your country can do for you” (John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address)
  • “I have a dream”; “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
  • “Death of a Pig” (E. B. White)
  • “The Marginal World” (Rachel Carson)

Note: See also History 8: The Kennedy Years, re J. F. Kennedy; The Civil Rights Movement, re M. L. King, Jr.; and, Emergence of Environmentalism, re Rachel Carson.

  • Selections (such as chapters 2 and 16) from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)


  • Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare)


  • Review:
  • Tragedy and comedy
  • Aspects of conflict, suspense, and characterization soliloquies and asides
  • Farce and satire
  • Aspects of performance and staging
  • Actors and directors
  • Sets, costumes, props, lighting, music presence of an audience


  • Irony: verbal, situational, dramatic
  • Flashbacks and foreshadowing
  • Hyperbole, oxymoron, parody

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
The Brearley School’s English literature program, gr6-8 (part 1)

The unit on Scottish ballads, which students must read aloud, legitimizes so-called ‘misspellings,’ as in the opening to “Sir Patrick Spens”:

The king sits in Dumferling tone,
Drinking the blude-reid wine,
“O what call I get guid sailor,
To sail this scrip of mine?”

Students enjoy pronouncing the Scottish “r” and the now-silent “k” and guttural “gh” in “knight.” More important, since words need to be looked at very closely in the pronunciation of such sounds and often analogized to make their meaning clear, reading ballads aloud forces students to pay close attention to each word and phrase, such attention being precisely the skill they will need when they begin to look at more sophisticated literary texts.

The ballads themselves are highly dramatic—full of murder and betrayal—and highly elliptical, with plot elements that must be inferred. Such reading material turns students into little Inspector Clouseaus, training them to read between the lines, to make inferences from the evidence before them—what was the “counsel” given Edward by his “mither”?–who murdered the “new-slain knight”?—and to find corroborative evidence within the rest of the ballad for whatever conclusions they reach. Comparing two versions of the same ballad provides additional experience in close reading.

Students then read a somewhat abridged version of the King James Book of Genesis, taught as a narrative rather than a religious text.

The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum by Sandra Stotsky

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)


  • Hope (Langston Hughes)
  • I Know All the Sounds the Animals Make (Jack Prelutsky)
  • My Shadow (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)
  • The Pasture (Robert Frost)
  • The Purple Cow (Gelett Burgess)
  • Rope Rhyme (Eloise Greenfield)
  • Sing a Song of People (Lois Lenski)
  • Solomon Grundy (traditional)
  • The Swing (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • Table Manners [also known as “The Goops”] (Gelett Burgess)
  • Thanksgiving Day [“Over the river and through the wood”] (Lydia Maria Child)


  • The Boy at the Dike (folktale from Holland)
  • The Frog Prince
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • selections from The House at Pooh Corner (A. A.Milne)
  • How Anansi Got Stories from the Sky God (folktale from West Africa)
  • It Could Always Be Worse (Yiddish folktale)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • The Knee-High Man (African-American folktale)
  • Medio Pollito (Hispanic folktale)
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Pinocchio
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • Puss-in-Boots
  • Rapunzel
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
  • Tales of Br’er Rabbit (recommended tales: Br’er Rabbit Gets Br’er Fox’s Dinner; Br’er Rabbit Tricks Br’er Bear; Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby)
  • Why the Owl Has Big Eyes (Native American legend)


  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  • The Dog in the Manger
  • The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
  • The Maid and the Milk Pail
  • The Fox and the Grapes
  • The Goose and the Golden Eggs

Teachers: To give students a sense that people all around the world tell certain stories that, while they differ in details, have much in common, introduce students to similar folktales from different lands, such as the following:
Lon Po Po (China) and Little Red Riding Hood
Issun Boshi, or One-Inch Boy (Japan); Tom Thumb (England); Thumbelina (by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen); Little Finger of the Watermelon Patch (Vietnam)
Some of the many variations on the Cinderella story (from Europe, Africa, China, Vietnam, Egypt, Korea, etc.)

Source: Core Knowledge | Grade 1 | Scope and sequence

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
The Brearley School’s English literature program, gr6-8 (part 1)

Launching the Reading Workshop Highlights and a Few Freebies

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the subject of the middle school’s Lucy Calkins-style reading workshop came up, sparking an interesting exchange between board members and the curriculum director.

Board members raised the possibility that having students choose their own books, effectively designing their own curriculum, might be related to the middle school’s poor ELA scores. (See here, here, here and here.)

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Curriculum director: Students don’t choose their own books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books.

Curriculum director: No they don’t choose their own books, they’re guided to choose certain books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books….

And so it went until the curriculum director prevailed, and no discussion took place of the merits of having 7th grade students read only two whole-class books in an entire year of school, or of the fact that close reading requires whole-class instruction (and quite a lot of whole-class instruction at that).

Mini-lessons and 20 kids reading 20 books in the same class are incompatible with the Common Core’s emphasis on close reading. Thus middle school students will be tested on their ability to do close readings of challenging texts, but they will receive very little in the way of explicit instruction and practice in how to do close readings of challenging texts.

Books 7th grade students chose for themselves (or were guided to choose for themselves) in school year 2011-2012:

(Click on screen shot to enlarge)

The other issue that did not come up is the question of community values.

What is the community’s goal for English class?

(Or, if different segments of the community have different goals, what are those goals?)

My own goal, which I shared and share with many parents, was that my child should not only read well but become well read, a concept that disappeared from public schools approximately 20 years ago, according to Sandra Stotsky’s The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum.

Being “well read” means having read (closely!), understood and, if possible, appreciated or actively enjoyed a comprehensive selection of canonical texts drawn from the standard literary time periods, preferably in coherent, sequential survey classes.

Irvington schools do not provide this option. Very few public schools do.

This situation needs to change because the idea that students should be well read is a value, and the community, not administrators, determines the values their schools should serve, or should.

Boards set the vision; administrators execute the vision.

College Preparatory Reading List: What College Chairpersons Wish Incoming Freshmen Had Read (1986)

1. The Bible 11. Gulliver’s Travels
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 11. Hamlet
3. The Scarlet Letter 11. Moby Dick
4. The Odyssey 11. Paradise Lost
5. William Shakespeare 11. Pride and Prejudice
5. Robert Frost & other 20th century poets 11. Ernest Hemingway
8. The Iliad 21. William Faulkner
8. Charles Dickens 21. David Copperfield
8. Macbeth 21. House of the Seven Gables
8. Prologue to the Canterbury Tales 21. Return of the Native
11. The Aeneid 27. Romeo and Juliet
11. T.S. Eliot 27. Emily Dickinson
11. Walt Whitman 27. William Wordsworth
11. The Great Gatsby 27. Red Badge of Courage

Should Students Be Well Read or Should They Read Well? by Anne
..McCreary Juhasz & Leslie R. Wilson NASSP Bulletin March 1986

Works referred to on AP Literature Exam since 1971

Common Core | Raisin in the Sun
Common Core “Illustrative Texts”
New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

Compare to this partial list of books Irvington 7th graders read during Fall 2011:

IUFSD gr7 LucyCalkins books
What do home buyers want?

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky on ELA Standards and College Readiness

Core Knowledge Sequence Content & Skill Guidelines for Grades K–8

An English Language Arts Curriculum Framework for American Public Schools: A Model For use by any state or school district without charge | Chief author: Sandra Stotsky Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas | February 2013

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo

Grade 8: 21% score 1 or 2


Grades 3-8 ELA 2012 FINAL
8th Grade Rankings - Student Performance Review 12.2012
High School English Regents 2.2012

Legend (top chart):

“As of July, 2010, NYSED updated its definitions for achievement levels. Lev1 is defined as “Below Standard”. Lev2 is defined as “Meets Basic Standard”. %Lev3 is defined as “Meets Proficiency Standard”. Lev4 is defined as “Exceeds Proficiency Standard”. See the NYSED web site for more information.”

Source: Student Performance Review
Presentation to the Board of Education
December 18, 2012

From 2008: “Irvington students, in fact, perform very well on standardized tests, especially in grades 3-8 where they scored at least in the 93rd percentile in ELA state standards.
From 2010: On New York School Tests, Warning Signs Long Ignored
Also from 2010: The Test Mess

All posts related to student achievement and test scores
INDEX of topics and posts
Per pupil spending $28,517