In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning the Words: The Common Core Standards and Joyful Writing

"Scaffolding."
It's easy to think of the Common Core State Standards as something "for teachers" and not for the rest of us. The newspaper coverage emphasizing the standards as related to testing, for instance -- and if you're a writer who has finished your official schooling, testing is something you're probably not going to embrace.

On the other hand, there's an aspect of the Common Core that is making my heart leap with excitement. Yes, really. Here it is: As I understand them, the new standards are saying: "By the time students leave high school, they'll be reading and processing information at an adult level."

To me, that makes good sense -- I want the kids coming out of high school and going straight to the workforce to be able to do so as adults, and even more so, I hope that those teens entering college can do it as adults. When I think about the differences among the college students I know, in terms of who is making the most of the opportunity and who is blowing it off, it boils down to exactly this.

When I pair this idea with "scaffolding" -- a term I learned from a reading teacher, at a workshop maybe 20 years ago -- the role of "young adult" fiction in the classroom becomes more complex and interesting. Not only are we giving readers a chance to experience, vicariously, the challenges, fears, and courage of life; we are also helping them rise up, one grade at a time, to being effective and joyful participants in the world of adults. We build a "scaffold" the way house painters or skyscraper builders do, so we can boost readers upward from where they already stand.

How do we do this? Here's my vocab lesson for the day, teaching myself the ways that teachers are now talking about the process, within the Common Core standards, in terms of the writer's own favorite building blocks: words.
Tier 1 words: These words are basic vocabulary or the more common words most children will know. They include high-frequency words and usually are not multiple meaning words.

Tier 2 words: Less familiar, yet useful vocabulary found in written text and shared between the teacher and student in conversation. The Common Core State Standards refers to these as “general academic words.” Sometimes they are referred to as “rich vocabulary.” These words are more precise or subtle forms of familiar words and include multiple meaning words. Instead of walk for example, saunter could be used. These words are found across a variety of domains.

Tier 3 words: CCSS refers to these words as “domain specific;” they are critical to understanding the concepts of the content taught in schools. Generally, they have low frequency use and are limited to specific knowledge domains. Examples would include words such as isotope, peninsula, refinery. They are best learned when teaching specific content lessons, and tend to be more common in informational text. (a nice version, well spelled out, from a commercial website, http://www.learninga-z.com)
We who are writing YA fiction -- whether it's mysteries or "literary" -- are invited by these standards to play with "Tier 2 words," the words that my teaching friends call "rich vocabulary." What a gift! What a delight! These are the words I've used in my poetry, always; now I'm being invited to use them deliberately and with skill, in everything else I'm writing for grades K to 12, and especially for middle grades and young adults.

See why my Writer's Heart is singing?

2 comments:

Kristine Ingram said...

Repeat the word. Use it it later in the text eain its different forms as different parts of speech to reinforce it, to allow for clarification or reinforcement of context skills.

Beth Kanell said...

Thanks, Kris -- a great reminder, and one I should pin to my writing wall.