Instruction Update: January 2019

Instruction Update: January 2019
Posted on 01/29/2019
This year we have been continuing our work as a community to improve students’ reasoning, reading, and writing skills--all areas where families can support and reinforce our efforts.

In September, English teachers worked hard to launch a school-wide independent reading program with the goal of every student reading 20 books independently by the end of the year. To support this goal, English teachers:
  • Assign nightly homework of reading for 30 minutes and check in daily with students about their reading at home,
  • Dedicate 30-45 minutes a week in class to having students read independently, and
  • Require students to give 4 book talks over the course of the school year.
School-wide we support this work by dedicating weekly time in advisory for students to read independently. It is important to note that if students read every night, then over the course of the school year they will be exposed to over 1 million words!

How can you help?
  • Ask your student what they are reading. Have them tell you about it -- What happened? Do you like the book? Why or why not? What has surprised you about the book?
  • Read and discuss a book together.
  • Recommend books or ask them to share their book talk with you.
  • Track or help them track how many books they have read.
  • Take them to the public library.
  • Read out loud to your child.
  • For more ideas, check out the Mind/Shift article, “How to Help Students Develop a Love of Reading” (
Additionally, as a school, we are working on constructed response--a type of question that can be found on both the Math and the English MCAS. In order for students to be successful on a constructed response question, they need to be able to:
  • Present and develop a central idea (i.e. a claim or a solution),
  • Provide evidence/details from multiple passages, data, experiments, and/or show work,
  • Produce clear and coherent writing that is organized and appropriate to the task and audience, and
  • Demonstrate and be able to explain their analysis and reasoning.
An example of a Math constructed response (2018 MCAS, 8th Grade) is:

A student wrote the equation shown. xy = z
  • Part A. What is the value of z in the equation when x = 3 and y = 4? Show or explain how you got your answer. Enter your answer and your work or explanation in the space provided.
  • Part B. What is the value of x in the equation when y = 3 and z = 125? Show or explain how you got your answer. Enter your answer and your work or explanation in the space provided.
  • Part C. The student rewrote the equation as shown. yz = x 
Is the value of x a rational number when y = 2 and z = 2? Explain your reasoning. Enter your answer and your work or explanation in the space provided.
  • Part D. Write an integer value of y and an integer value of z that make the equation true when x = 8. Show or explain how you got your answers. Enter your answers and your work or explanation in the space provided.
An example of an English Language Arts constructed response (2018 MCAS, 8th Grade) is:

For this question, you will write an essay based on the passage(s). Your essay should:
  • Present and develop a central idea.
  • Provide evidence/details from the passage(s).
  • Include correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Based on both “Waiting for Mr. Lincoln” and "Life and Times of Frederick Douglass", write an essay explaining whether Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were effective leaders. Be sure to use information from both excerpts to develop your essay.

If you would like to see more examples of test questions, you can look here: If you would like to see examples of student work and scoring guides, you can also look here:

At Putnam Ave., in order to support students to answer these questions, we have worked to incorporate the C-E-R strategy into our teaching. C-E-R stands for Claim-Evidence-Reasoning, which are all of the elements that students need when they are formulating or analyzing an argument.

To support our goals around constructed response:
  • English and Math teachers have students work on a constructed response every month.
  • All teachers have students frequently work on constructed response in class and post student work in display cases on a rotating basis.
  • All teachers work on helping students to make their thinking visible and developing the skills necessary for reasoning: reading, annotating, debating, finding evidence, error analysis, asking questions, conducting research, etc.
  • All teachers spend common planning time looking at student work, data, and dilemmas connected to C-E-R and reasoning with the purpose of adjusting instruction to meet the needs of the students we are serving.
How can you help?
  • Ask your student to share with you what they are writing about in school. They should be able to tell you something in every class, including specialties!
  • Encourage your student to use C-E-R as a framework when trying to convince you of something or when viewing the news or reading an article.
  • Use the language of C-E-R when you talk with your student.
  • When your student makes a claim, ask: 
“How do you know?” or “What evidence do you have?” 
“Why is this important?” 
“What makes you say that?”
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