Posts Tagged Common Core Standards

High Stakes Testing Leads to High Blood Pressure

The Birthmark scope cover pageThis time last year I admitted to a high degree of frustration when it comes to standardized testing. It drives my blood pressure up when fifth grader after fifth grader gets pulled out of class to either test or get remedial instruction. Rarely (if ever) do I have my full group. It makes for some dysfunctional lessons requiring the reteaching of material to kids who were already struggling to grasp material from previous missed sessions. Still, as my Admin is fond of saying, “testing is the reality in which we live.” Embrace it or die (at least that’s how I translate it). And with the Smarter-Balance test hitting the streets next year, it’s evident this testing craze isn’t going away anytime soon (can’t wait to hear from parents when their kids go home and say they flunked the ‘smarter test’).

Well, I’m happy to say my current students have once again done just fine on state standardized tests, especially in reading where nearly all either met standards or growth targets and average fluency scores soared. Why mention it here? Because I long ago abandoned traditional text books and instead built my reading program around read aloud plays. Along with chapter books and content reading (primarily history content from Storyworks magazine), read aloud plays are the mainstay of my instruction. Not only do they build fluency and provide the framework to teach comprehension skills, they also increase the love of reading.

While some of my colleagues look at the new Common Core Standards with trepidation, I’m confident my young thespians will continue to thrive. As always, I’m already mapping out another year of plays. You can see my tentative plans below, and if you’d care to jump on the reader’s theater bandwagon, you’ll find all of the titles (and many more) either on my TpT Storefront, in one of my books^, or coming soon via this website*.

I’ll close with one warning: using read aloud plays to improve test scores means more than just handing out scripts and inviting kids to read. To see the nuts and bolts of how it’s done, download my free article, Why Use Drama?

September–Introductory: Rikki Tikki Tavi^, Peter Rabbit, Argument at Mount Rushmore^

October—Just for Halloween: Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, The Tell-Tale Heart^, Cyclops v Odysseus

November/December–Holidays: Ebenezer Scrooge*, Gabriel Grub*, The Necklace^

January–American Revolution: The Secret Soldier*, The Legend of Betsy Ross^, Eagles Over the Battlefield^

February–Slavery & Civil War: Spies & Rebels, Freedom for the First Time, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate

March/April–Civil Rights: How Jackie Saved the World, Selma to Montgomery: Let it Shine*, I Have a Dream: The Childhood of MLK^

May—Just for Fun: A Piece of String*, Ransom for Red Chief*, The Nose^

All right, I’ll close (for real this time) with the fine print: Using Read Aloud Plays won’t stop your classroom instruction from being interrupted by standardized testing. Nor will it prevent your blood pressure from soaring due to the same. But done right, read aloud plays will have a positive impact on your reading test scores.

Happy directing!

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When Your Character Gets Questioned

SCOPE-110113-PlayWhat can you do when your character gets questioned but you’re unable to defend yourself? In my new play in the November issue of Scholastic’s Scope Magazine, a peasant in 19th-century France is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The harder he tries to clear his name, the less people believe him. Does he get what he deserves? Guy de Maupassant’s classic story, A Piece of String, makes a great characterization activity. Vivid characters, a compelling plot, and a interesting moral make for great classroom discussion. You can get A Piece of String by becoming a Scope subscriber, and you can preview the play here.

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Common Core Wearing on Ya Yet?

Scope Reformation CoverLike most of you, the start of the new school year has left me scrambling to keep up. Fortunately, Read Aloud Plays can help. Take a look at what teachers are saying about using plays in the classroom.

Mack, Thanks for another excellent RT. I am a loyal fan of your work. Always a hit with my students too. – Anne J.,

Thank you! My wonderful editors at Scholastic and my fifth graders seem to be of the same opinion. My 45th play, an adaption of De Maupassant’s “A Piece of String,” is scheduled for release in an upcoming issue of Scope Magazine, and I have three other Scope-commissioned plays waiting in the wings. RT users can also utilize my work by purchasing either of my two collections: Symbols of America or Classic Short Stories. I also have twenty read aloud plays available on Teachers PayTeachers. Because most of these originally appeared in either Scope or Storyworks, you can bet the quality is top-notch..

Used this on a family civil war themed camping trip with my own family. – Dowdy K.

I find this really telling. After all, when was the last time anyone took an HM text book on a camping trip? Read Aloud Plays work because they’re fun. Couple the fun with great content such as a classic tale or an important historical event –and you have academic gold!

Highly Recommended. I was able to tie much of my social studies in with LA due to many good “reader’s Theater” plays like these. Thanks.  – Shannon P.

I’ve crafted numerous reader’s theater scripts for Scholastic covering the Civil Right Movement and American History. Especially poignant plays include Sitting Down for Dr. King, which is set during the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, and Freedom for the First Time, which deals with a slave family’s reaction to the conclusion of the Civil War. The latter made me cry when I wrote it, and even now after dozens of uses, still makes me tear up.

Another winner for this high school sped teacher!brettandjenn02

Read Aloud Plays allow students to read repetitively, something that many Sped students didn’t do when they were preschoolers. Consequently, RT is an ideal method of improving fluency. Download my free guide to using drama for more information on the brain research behind Read Aloud Plays.

Fantastic way to energize my 8th graders!sorlando678

An old veteran of the classroom once told me that “fun” teachers make sure kids enjoy school, good teachers make sure kids learn what they’re supposed to learn, but great teachers do both. Read Aloud Plays both engage students and support the CCSs.

This reader’s theatre provided a nice alternative to standard aloud reading for my class as they completed their short story unit.nancyhn

Rather than just reading a classic short story such a The Monkey’s Paw, Cyclops, Sleepy Hollow, or Peter Rabbit, how about reading the short story and enacting the play at the same time? What a great way for kids to develop their inferential comprehension!

Happy Directing!

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50% Off One Week Only!

Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short StoriesRead Aloud Plays: Symbols of America, Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories, and Super Sentences & Perfect Paragraphs, are all 50% off through August 7th at Scholastic Teacher Express. Simply use the promo code Birthday50 at Checkout to get a great deal on these titles.

Symbols features ten American history plays about important symbols, events, and holidays from American History. It includes the plays Betsy Ross: Fact or Fiction and I Have a Dream: The Childhood of Martin Luther King, both originally published in Storyworks magazine. Unless you have back issues of Storyworks stashed in your classroom cabinets, Symbols is the only source for these plays.

Classic Short Stories includes eight classic short stories re-imagined for the intermediate and middle school classrooms. Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, and Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi, will delight your students while helping them build fluency, extend comprehension, and meet the CCSs.

Finally, Super Sentences and Perfect Paragraphs is a complete writing program in a small package. Ever get overwhelmed by these monstrous writing programs text book companies sell your school district? They come with multiple binders, a ton of packaging, and half-a-dozen supplementary boxes of largely useless junk? Ever notice how you’re never able to wade through the muck to develop a systematic, effective, easy-to-use, daily writing program? Well, chuck the text book junk and give Super Sentences a try. It includes daily, weekly, and quarterly writing activities all in one 96 page reproducible book. And it’s half-off this week at Scholastic Teacher Express! Just click on a title to go directly to Teacher Express to preview or purchase. Don’t forget that promo code: Birthday50.

Happy Directing!

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State Testing Linked to Premature Baldness

The Birthmark scope cover pageI’m willing to admit to a high degree of frustration when it comes to standardized testing. In fact, during the latter part of the most recent school year, state testing had me secretly yanking fistfuls of grey hair from my head. I had so many kids being pulled out of my fifth grade class to either test or get remedial instruction, rarely (if ever) did I have my full group. It made for some dysfunctional lessons requiring reteaching material to kids who were already being retaught material from previous years. Still, as my Admin is fond of saying, “testing is the reality in which we live.” Embrace it or die (at least that’s how I translate it).

Well, I’m happy to say my students did just fine on state standardized tests, especially in reading where nearly all either met standards or growth targets and average fluency scores soared. Why mention it here? Because I long ago abandoned traditional text books and instead built my reading program around read aloud plays. Along with chapter books and content reading (primarily history content from Storyworks magazine), read aloud plays are the mainstay of my instruction. Not only do they build fluency and provide the framework to teach comprehension skills, they also increase the love of reading. It was no surprise to me that during our annual book give-away the last week of school, one of my reluctant readers eagerly snatched up a copy of A Christmas Carol. He’d had a small part in our movie adaption back in December and was still enthusiastic about it.

While some of my colleagues look at the new Common Core Standards with trepidation, I’m confident my young thespians will continue to thrive. In fact, I’m already mapping out another year of read aloud plays. You can see my tentative plans below, and if you’d care to jump on the reader’s theater bandwagon, you’ll find all of the titles either on my TpT Storefront, in one of my books^, or coming soon via this website*.

I’ll close with one warning: using read aloud plays to improve test scores means more than just handing out scripts and inviting kids to read. To see the nuts and bolts of how it’s done, download my free article, Why Use Drama? 

September–Exploration: The Fountain of Youth, Lewis & Clark and Bird Girl, Fly Me to the Moon

October—Halloween Theme: Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, The Tell-Tale Heart^, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow^, The Monkey’s Paw, The Birthmark*

November/December–Christmas Theme: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Gift of the Magi^, Gabriel Grub*, The Necklace^

January–American Revolution: The Secret Soldier*, The Legend of Betsy Ross^, Eagles Over the Battlefield^

February–Slavery & Civil War: Spies & Rebels, Freedom for the First Time, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate

March/April–Civil Rights: Sitting Down for Dr. King, Freedom March, We Shall Overcome, Selma to Montgomery: Let it Shine*, The Girl Who Got Arrested, In the Jailhouse with Dr. King, I Have a Dream: The Childhood of MLK^

May—Just for Fun: Peter Rabbit, A Retrieved Reformation, Cyclops v Odysseus*

All right, I’ll close (for real this time) with the fine print: Read Aloud Plays won’t stop your classroom instruction from being interrupted by standardized testing. Nor will it decrease your risk of premature baldness due to the same. But done right, read aloud plays will have a positive impact on your reading test scores.

Happy directing!

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Why You Need a Cardboard Box for Black History Month

Box Brown's Freedom Crate graphicIf you’ve never heard one of your students attempt a southern accent you must give Box Brown’s Freedom Crate a whirl this February during Black History Month. Ever since I wrote it for Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine back 1999, Box Brown has always been a favorite among my students. Consequently my class learns and performs it almost every year. Even if you’re teaching in the Southern U.S.—where the dialect might not be so unique—there remain many compelling reasons to teach with this play.

Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is based on The Autobiography of Henry “Box” Brown. Henry was the slave who mailed himself to the North inside a wooden crate and lived—just barely—to tell the world about it. Why do kids like this play so much? The Deep South dialect of slaves and slave bosses is certainly one reason. So too is the large cardboard box we use as the main prop. It’s painted to look like an old-fashioned shipping crate and is just big enough for a moderately-sized fifth grader to climb inside. The student playing Henry disappears within it during Scene 4 and then discreetly exits while the curtains are closed. From there he appears to get battered as the box is tossed from wagon to train to steamer until it finally gets cracked open at the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. Henry then rises from his coffin only to quickly swoon away from exhaustion and dehydration. This is of course a dramatic moment in Henry’s true story, and one kids don’t soon forget.

There are sound academic reasons to enact plays such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate. For example, because kids are willing to read and reread their lines over and over again, Read Aloud Plays build reading fluency. The brain science behind this repetition suggests it actually forms the neural pathways that make reading possible.  Read Aloud Plays are easily leveled and they provide the exposure to drama the new Common Core Standards demand. They also allow students to experience history “first hand,” which helps them to relate to people like Henry, to understand some of the heartache and suffering Henry might have felt. …Plus there’s still that whole southern accent thing.

Visit my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers to download a free preview of Box Brown or one of my other Black History plays. I’ve used every one in my own classroom, and because most have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines, you can rest-assured they’re of the highest quality.

Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is suitable for 4th-8th graders and includes parts for from ten to twenty students depending on your needs. Hear Box Brown being performed by students by clicking on the “podcasts” tab, and to get the most out of your reader’s theater, be sure to download my free article entitled “Why Use Drama?” Happy directing!

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How Engaging are Read Aloud Plays?

Why Use Drama cover 220x289How engaging are read aloud plays? Consider this bit of anecdotal evidence:  In December my students were working on my adaption of Guy DeMaupassant’s The Necklace for presentation on stage, as well as a movie version of A Christmas Carol (which you can view if you scroll down a couple of posts). Consequently the kids went home for vacation with both these scripts tucked away in their binders.  Upon returning, one of my students shared how on Christmas her family decided to use the scripts and act out the plays themselves.  Imagine the scene:  Dad croaking out “Bah Humbug,” middle school brother haunting him in the night, and Grandma chiming in as The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Note, too, that my student at the core of all this receives SPED services. These plays have gripped her (and her family) in a way that novels and text books haven’t.  In my classroom, students regularly read chapter books in our “Book Clubs” and get plenty of instruction with short works, poetry, and non-fiction using Storyworks classroom magazine, but over twenty years of teaching, it’s consistently been the read aloud plays that most engage them.  And let’s conclude with this, when was the last time your students took the text book home and read it around the Christmas tree? Visit my TeachersPayTeachers store for access to dozens of engaging play scripts. Each has been classroom-tested, most were originally published by Scholastic–which means they meet the highest standards–and all come with full production rights, meaning your $3 gets you a class set you can use year-after-year. Happy directing!

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