Why is There More Open Content for Math Than English?

It is pretty easy to run a secondary school using open math content. There is Khan AcademyCK12NROC, and more. But it seems to be harder to find open education resources (OER) in English language arts.
“A big difficulty in finding OER Language resources has to do with the Common Core State Standards use of informational text and literary non-fiction,” said Lisa Blum, OpenEd Institute. “This is a new challenge for teachers. Furthermore the Language Arts standards are requiring a deep engagement of the text and use of these language skills across other disciplines, such as history/social studies, science and technical subjects.”
Common Core standards call for a mastery of writing and speaking that is different than what has been expected before. “Students will now need to analyze, infer and give evidence, conduct research and solve problems,” added Blum, “So finding resources for Language Arts is much harder than it was before.”
Common Core math expectations continue to focus on procedural fluency and conceptual understanding. While there were sequencing changes, many of the math resources that have been available for some time are still very useful.
OpenEd launched in June with a giant collection of free resources. “With the Language Arts standards its critical to have a volume of resources to choose from,” said Blum, “So OpenEd’s approach of aggregating ALL Internet accessible resources with deep metadata is what is really critical to having good sources for content. OpenEd uses teacher usage patterns to optimize those selections further. “At OpenEd we strive to not just find any resource that might be nominally relevant, but finding the best resource for any standard,” added Blum.
In search of ELA OER . OER and standards guru Karen Fasimpaur notes that “Even with traditional basal textbook-using districts, ELA is often taught with a variety of resources (anthologies, supplementals, etc.).” She added that OER tends to “be less full year comprehensive programs and more a collection of resources….this might include things like ebooks, non-fiction articles, mini-lesson practice activities, writing prompt collections, etc.” She noted that teachers use “building block” OER, like photos, videos, audio, etc., as students are creating projects.
“There was initially more of a push toward math in OER, but ELA has come along,” said Fasimpaur. She noted FreeReading, a high quality OER program that Wireless Generation (now Amplify) built assessments for. Expeditionary Learning, and Odell Education worked with New York State on an open ELA curriculum. (see more on her site).
OER Commons provides an comprehensive infrastructure for educators to find, evaluate and improve upon open curriculum, including CCSS teaching and learning content. “Teachers not only need to develop their knowledge and skills with the new ELA standards, but also to help fill the gaps we now have for effective CCSS-aligned content,” says Lisa Petrides, president of ISKME, the creator of OER Commons, “One reason we are focusing teachers on the OER Achieve and EQuIP quality evaluation rubrics, for example, is to support the continuous improvement of available learning content. We’ve found through our curation efforts that many ELA materials do not yet demonstrate connections to the text, or using evidence that the Common Core require.”
“ELA lessons intended to focus on reading and analyzing informational texts must be adapted and built from the ground up, using text-based inquiry,” added Petrides, “ELA units and courses need to show progressions of text complexity that are suitable for all learners in the classroom. CCSS-aligned materials now need supports so that students at different reading levels are accommodated and able to participate in inquiry-based literacy.”
Gobs of resources. As noted last week, Summit Denali, a new Silicon Valley middle school, starts the day with 30 minutes of reading with Gobstopper, an e-reader “platform for schools that allows educators to put the questions and quizzes they would normally place in worksheets directly into the text.” Gobstopper has lots of open content but some users have asked for more, so they will introduce rented proprietary content this year. The Activate Instruction platform that Summit built with Illuminate Education also uses OER in performance tasks. (Same for the Buzz platform used by EAA schools in Detroit, more on that next week.)
It turns out there is a fair amount of ELA OER but some assembly is required. On that front, theLiteracy Design Collaborative is a network of groups “building out a template-based approach to the literacy demands of college and the workplace, as defined by the Common Core State Standards.” For more on the task and template based approach, see Writing Across the Curriculum With The Literacy Design Collaborative. 
Steve Peha, founder of Teaching that Makes Sense believes, “the combination of the Common Core and affordable Web technology has brought unprecedented access to new materials. Combine this with the burgeoning movement toward Open Education Resources (OER) and we inadvertently have a signal-to-noise problem on our hands.” He asks, “how do we sort the good stuff from the merely mediocre and the actually quite awful?”
It’s a tough problem. Peha adds, “perhaps other educational resource discovery services like EdShelf and Graphite will crack the nut of correlating popularity with effectiveness–across different tests, different states, and different state-mandated cut points–given the time and technology to do so.”
We appreciate the advice of OER experts Steve Peha, Lisa Petrides, Karen Fasimpaur, and Lisa Blum in exploring the topic of ELA OER. There are tons of great resources out there, and with the help of these tools listed above you can find and assemble them into compelling learning experiences.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Tom Vander Ark

[comment from EdWeek] I am Curriki's Chief Academic Officer. HI there! I think your readers will be happy to hear that Curriki, a non-profit free OER online community has nearly 10K ELA resources. All resources are free for educators, students, and parents. Each month new resources are featured here: http://www.curriki.org/welcome/subjects/english-language-arts-13/ Another way to be alerted about all the great ELA material is to subscribe to the Curriki newsletter. http://www.curriki.org/welcome/about-curriki/curriki-newsletter-sign-up/ Please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions about Curriki! Janet Pinto Curriki

Tom Vander Ark

Scott Messinger comments:
I completely agree with the thesis: ELA content is much harder to find. But the article's explanation for why is so completely wrong. I'm stunned. The short answer is: copyright law. Math is content agnostic. You could write an effective math curriculum without any external resources, assuming a knowledge of pedagogy and mathematics. You can create lessons, tests, and worksheets without stepping on anyone's intellectual property.
This isn't true of ELA (with the caveat that phonics can be taught sans content. e.g. the FreeReading program mentioned in the article) Reading requires content (picture books, short stories, novels, articles, etc). It's impossible to create curricula around content that teachers don't have access to. People try, and the lessons are vague, abstract, general, and ineffective. For instance, a reading curricula that's content agnostic will focus an extraordinary amount of time on topics called "reading strategies." Research has shown are ineffective after 6 lessons. That research hasn't prevented curriculum writers from teaching these strategies every year, every lesson from K-5 (see attachment).
Skills in reading like "understanding the main idea", "constructing arguments", "determining theme", all require literature. It's impossible to write a lesson that pushes students to understand theme if the lesson can't point to passages a teacher should draw students attention to. A content agnostic lesson can't offer questions the teacher should ask because any question work asking will reference the text being studied. Questions are critical to teaching. Developing great questions is hard and takes time. It's the job of teaching resources to provide those questions to teachers. Content agnostic reading lessons can't do that.
Until the open educational resources movement starts focusing on securing the rights to authentic, great content (short stories, novels, etc), there won't be great resources built around it. By authentic, I mean literature written by writers and published. Most of the content that appears on open education resource sites is written by people like me: teachers who are writing something highly constructed to teach a specific point. Such pieces can be effective in teaching small details (sentence structures like cause/effect, etc) but are incapable of stimulating the conversation and critical analysis required by the Common Core and expected by business.

Tom Vander Ark

Marie White (on twitter) said, "at least @Read_NewsEla and @activelylearn have free with sign up solutions"

paul moss

The real reason why maths is so prevalent compared to english is because maths is such a simple subject to convert to online instruction. Drill and practice classroom techniques are simply regurgitated in most online products; just an extension of traditional schooling contexts. There is absolutely no constructivist theory in any online maths product, including the saviour of education, Kahn Academy. Translating english skills into an online application has not been as easy, due to the abstract nature of much of the content. However, technology does provide a means of facilitating a constructivist pedagogy in english curriculum design. The code can be cracked.

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