Archive for August, 2012

Math with Mary!

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Mary Headley – Elementary Math Specialist

The introduction of new math concepts can be described using three stages:

I. Concrete (the “doing” stage) – This stage involves both teacher and student modeling.

II. Pictorial (the “seeing” stage) – This stage transitions the concrete model into a representational level such as  drawing pictures or using dots or tallies, etc.

III. Abstract (the “symbolic” stage) – This stage uses numbers and mathematical symbols.

Using concrete models is the first step in building the meaning behind mathematical concepts.  These models include a variety of math manipulatives, measuring tools, and other objects that students can handle during a lesson. Research-based studies show that students who use concrete materials develop more precise and more comprehensive mental representations, often show more motivation and on-task behavior, understand mathematical ideas and better apply these ideas to life situations.  (Harrison & Harrison, 1986; Suydam & Higgins, 1977)

Pictorial representations help teachers provide the perfect bridge between concrete representations and abstract algorithms. Pictorial representations include drawings, diagrams, charts and graphs that are drawn by the student or provided for the students to read and interpret. Pictured relationships show visual representations of the concrete manipulatives and help students visualize the mathematical operations. It is imperative that teachers explain how the pictorial examples relate to the concrete examples.

“Up the Hill” Manipulatives

Connecting the dots between the concrete, pictorial, and abstract is the glue that cements the learning for students. This connection provides the understanding that students need to demonstrate a problem or operation using symbolic representations such as numbers. The meaning of symbols and numbers must be rooted in experiences with real objects (concrete) and pictorial representations. Otherwise the symbolic operations (abstract) become rote repetitions of memorized procedures with no understanding.

The gradual movement from concrete to pictorial to abstract benefits all students and helps to prevent the frustration that some students feel when instructed only with abstract processes and procedures.

Perhaps this article has caused you to think about exploring multiple ways to teach math.  Would you like to observe and experience the conceptual development of content? Do you want to give students multiple strategies for success? Would it help you to see how manipulatives can be used to build the meaning behind math concepts?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be interested in Math with Mary, an online resource tool that offers professional learning modules designed to build teacher content knowledge and teacher confidence with the use of manipulatives. These modules are hosted by Mary Headley, Education Specialist for K-5 Mathematics at Education Service Center Region XIII, and will walk participants through the use of a specific manipulative which will allow students to explore and develop a variety of math concepts. Using the strategies presented, students will be able to visualize the math while engaging in strategies that build conceptual understanding.

The first course module, Math with Mary: Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks (FA1224478), is appropriate for grades 3-6 and is currently available on E-Campus. This course lays the foundation for understanding multiplication of 2 digit numbers and beyond. Student expectations related to Number and Operations emphasize the use of concrete models and visual representation of numbers and operations. The Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks course supports student expectations outlined in the TEKS and will help teachers build the bridge between concrete models, pictorial representations and the abstract multiplication algorithm. (2 hours CE credit)



Harrison , M., & Harrison, B., “Developing Numeration Concepts and Skills,”  Arithmetic Teacher 33 (1986): 1–21.

Suydam, M. N.; & J. L. Higgins,  Activity-based Learning in Elementary School Mathematics: Recommendations from Research. Columbus, OH: ERIC Center for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1977.

Text levels: Is it important to know the reading levels of middle school and high school students?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Stephanie Heinchon, Literacy Specialist


When we think of reading levels, we visualize a group of young children at a horseshoe shaped table all reading the same book, learning to read.

As students reach middle school and high school we expect them to use reading as a tool for learning, or reading to learn.  But can all of our students decode, read and comprehend the text we place in front of them?  Is the text too easy, leaving some students bored and unchallenged?


As we reflect upon these questions, we begin to think about how to match middle school and high school students reading abilities to text levels.  Is there is a way to do this to ensure student success and engagement while obtaining content acquisition?


YES!!!!!  The Lexile Framework can help!!!!!!


A lexile measure provides a teacher about an individual’s reading ability or the difficulty of a text.  You obtain a student’s lexile level from a reading test or program. A lexile text measure is based on two strong predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. The idea behind The Lexile Framework for Reading is simple: if we know how well a student can read and how hard a specific text is to comprehend, we can predict how well that student will likely understand the text.   (Adapted from )


Lexile measures give educators the confidence to choose materials that can improve student reading skills and take the guesswork out of connecting readers with appropriate texts. By knowing a student’s lexile measure, educators can tell with a great deal of accuracy which books are appropriate for their student’s reading ability. The framework is also a great tool for differentiating reading materials and lessons. Teachers learning about lexiles will have the ability to help students become successful independent readers.


The Lexile Framework for Reading is a scientific approach to reading and text measurement.  To learn more about the Lexile Framework and its application in the classroom, join us for FA1223962 on October 26, 2012.

To view a six-minute animated video created for educators and parents, click here:

Science Notebooks: A Reflection of Progress

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: D’Anna Pynes, Elementary Science Specialist


It is that time of year again: new school supplies and a fresh start.  Students and parents may come to you wondering how they are going to use those school supplies and excited to fill those pages.  Before your students begin writing in their science notebooks, today may be a good day to reflect on how those notebooks will be best utilized, not only as a place to record data and understandings, but as a record of student progress of scientific skills throughout the year.

If you have utilized science notebooks in your class over the years, how would you rate yourself in terms of implementation?  What will you continue and what do you plan to do differently this year?  How will you take your entries to the next level as you continue to improve in your implementation and raise expectations?

We often review student entries to look at student mastery of a scientific concept.  We may even reflect on how student thinking has changed from the beginning of the concept to assessment time.  And while topics change throughout the year and we may ask the students to go back through their notebook to think about what all they have learned or prepare for those summative evaluations, how often do we ask them to reflect on how the skills they have used from the first day in class to the last have changed over the year?

Scientific Investigation and Reasoning Standards


The Scientific Investigation and Reasoning standards found at the beginning of your TEKS should be embedded in your teaching practices throughout the academic year.  These are the skills scientists use to develop understandings of scientific concepts, and should be how your students record information they learn throughout the year.

Safe Practices and Equipment. We usually teach students safe and responsible practices in the lab at the beginning of the year.  Students may record how they will stay safe in the lab and glue in a safety contract after the Table of Contents in order to reference safety procedures later in the year.  As teachers we ensure our students are following safe practices before and during investigations, but how often do we go back and ask students to reflect on safe practices in their notebook?  At the beginning of a lab, we could ask students to record what safety equipment they will be using for a particular investigation and if there are any special procedures to follow.  If we do this over the year, students will have a record of the different safety equipment they have learned to use over the year and when it is appropriate to use certain equipment, such as aprons, protective eyewear or gloves. 

Scientific Method and Equipment. When we complete classroom investigations, our notebook entries usually fit into this category.  We ask students to record questions and procedures, record observations and communicate conclusions.  When recorded in one place over the year, this becomes a portfolio of how the student has progressed in these skills over the year.  If you ask students to write their own questions, how has their level of questioning changed?  How much detail has been added to their observations? What vocabulary are they using?  To what depth are they communicating their understandings and conclusions?  Do they make connections to previous investigations? 

Additionally, over the year we give our students different strategies for recording observations and collecting data.  As students become more proficient, we may ask the student to identify the best way to record information from their investigation.  If different graphic organizers have been used, students may begin connecting certain representations to different types of data.

As with safety equipment, we should also ask our students to record what types of tools or models they used to complete their investigations.  Again, over time, this will serve as a record for students to associate equipment with different types of investigations or concepts.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving:

Asking students to reflect on not only their findings, but also on past and current scientific research and findings is essential to the classroom.  As teachers, we should stay up-to-date on current events related to our content so we can teach our students how to find current information and analyze others’ explanations at their level of understanding.  As content fits naturally into our teaching, we must allow our students time to consider differing opinions (past and present) and evaluate explanations to the best of their ability using website or newspaper articles, clips from news reports, marketing material or journal articles.  Of course, you must always comply with your school or district policies regarding student internet use and social media policies.

In addition to critiquing scientific explanations, students should also learn about the contributions different scientists have made in their field of study and careers students could pursue.  The student science notebook can be a great place for students to keep notes of important people and their contributions.  The Social Studies TEKS related to your grade or a team member who teaches social studies is a great place to begin when looking for influential people in the area of science.

Planning Your Year


The beginning of the year is a great place to consider your professional and classroom goals.  It is a chance for us to improve and refine approaches from the previous year, but we do not have to improve and refine everything at once! What practices will you continue? What will you add?  Document in your weekly plans what process skill(s) your students will use in their notebook, identify a highlighted skill as an objective for your students and give yourself a reward each time you meet your goal.

Planning with the Process Skills in Mind

For help with planning purposeful integration into your daily lesson plans, please visit our free online course Integrating Process Skills with Content Standards in Science (Workshop # FA1224556 for elementary teachers and FA1223557 for secondary teachers).  These modules are designed for you to complete in a collaborative setting and will give you and your team tools to help focus planning sessions and find natural points of integration where process and content standards meet.

If you have never set up a science notebook for your classroom or you are looking for tips on how to get started, check out our online course Utilizing Science Notebooks: The Basics, Workshop # FA1224472.  Here, you will receive directions on how to organize notebooks and ideas to help you determine notebook entries.

Access any of these courses through ESC Region XIII’s E-Campus.



Suggested Resources

B. Campbell & L. Fulton, Science Notebooks: Writing about Inquiry.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.

FOSS (n.d.).  Science Notebooks in Middle School.  The Regents of the University of California,  Accessed August 15, 2012.

B. R. Fulwiler, Writing in Science: How to Scaffold Instruction to Support Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007).

J. Gilbert, & M. Kotelman, (2005).  Five good reasons to use science notebooks: Key understandings about science notebooks maximize learning for all students,

M. P. Klentschy, “Science Notebook Essentials: A Guide to Effective Notebook Components,” Science and Children.  43(3) (2005), 24-27,

K. Maracarelli, Teaching science with interactive notebooks.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010.

L. Norton-Meier, B. Hand, L. Hockenberry, & K. Wise.  Questions, Claims, and Evidence: The Important Place of Argument in Children’s Science Writing.  Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2008.

Science Notebooks in K12 Classrooms,


And still, outside of school, people wrote…

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literary Specialist

In grad school, one of my professors assigned an article for us to read by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the former president of NCTE, entitled “Writing in the 21st Century.” (To read this article, go to  I distinctly remember falling in love with this article for several reasons: her writing style is AMAZING, she succinctly summarizes a history of composition in a mere few paragraphs, she reminds readers of the social nature of writing, she asserts that technology has allowed everyone to become writers and that these writers who embrace technology “want to compose and do” for each other, a real and defined audience.

I would like to focus specifically on Yancey’s views on the role of audience and the social nature of writing that has become more prominent because of technology.  Everywhere we look, we see examples of students writing—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, text messages.  Deborah Brandt, professor emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calls this self-sponsored writing, “a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution” (Yancey 4).   In these platforms, our students mix text and media effortlessly and WILLINGLY in order “to share, to encourage dialogue, to participate” (Yancey 5).  Writers, and just as importantly, AUDIENCES are everywhere.  Our students dive into this digital environment yet they seem reluctant to write for us in the classroom.  We stick to the traditional model of literacy with pen and paper first, then the computer, and, finally, if at all, the networked computer.  We limit the power of the computer by only using it as a word processor.  We limit our students’ creativity and interest when we ignore how they “naturally” communicate through the writing.

Yancey ends her article with the idea that writing throughout history has mostly been for a public audience. “If this is so, we need to find a place for it both in our models of writing and in our teaching of writing.” (7). And this is exactly why our students write outside of school—because of an audience.  Shouldn’t we encourage this?


Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Writing in the 21st Century. NCTE Web,  31 July 2012.

Managing e-Portfolios

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Juan Orozco, Instructional Technology Specialist

Personal e-portfolios have been widely used at the university level for assessment, for presentations and to showcase student accomplishments. Recently, there has also been a rise in the use of personal e-portfolios at the K-12 level. Consider the following sixth grade standard:

6) Technology operations and concepts. The student uses technology concepts, systems, and operations as appropriate for a project. The student is expected to:

6Hvi. collect and organize student-created products to build an individual portfolio.


According to Lorenzo & Ittelson (2005a) “a student e-portfolio, can be used to showcase accomplishments and give students an audience for reflection and feedback.” They describe the six major functions of e-portfolios as being:

  1. Documentation of student learning
  2. Course and educational planning
  3. Evaluation of the course itself
  4. Future job opportunities artifacts
  5. Performance evaluation of content
  6. Program development

Barrett (1997) believes that the following elements should be incorporated in any portfolio, either traditional or electronic:

  • Learning goals should be clear.
  • Criteria for the selected materials should be transparent.
  • Products should be selected by the student and teacher.
  • Feedback is essential.
  • Student reflection is needed.
  • Exemplar work should be included.

It is worth noting that the same e-portfolio can meet the needs of a diverse group of individuals viewing the same content. Also, now with the advancements of some of the e-portfolio applications, these tools can permit varying degrees of audience access, which gives the creator of these learning artifacts great flexibility for distribution.

There are many tools on the web that can be used to house and manage an e-portfolio. One such tool is “My ePortfolio” which is a component of Project Share. The essential elements to consider when evaluating an e-portfolio tool are: accessibility, portability and distribution capability. Other considerations should be in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other state and federal laws, as well as in compliance with district policies.  These considerations should be a part of the conversation when selecting any e-portfolio tool.

When considering the elements above, I can see why Project Share’s “My ePortfolio” is slowly becoming Texas teachers’ e-portfolio choice. One of the best things about this service is that it offers a lifetime personal account. Also, the service has the ability to send one link to your e-portfolio and it incorporates “Access Keys,” which limit access only to the content you wish to share. This goes a long way towards protecting students. Other tools available in “My ePortfolio” are the “Content Repository,” which has every New York Times article since 1851 housed within its database, and the “OnTRACK” online course content, which can be used to supplement and enrich a student’s educational experience. Having access to such rich educational content and the ability to incorporate these learning tools into the student’s e-portfolio support the diverse learning needs of our students. The Texas Educational Agency is to be commended for making this powerful tool available for free to all Texas students and teachers.   

If you would like to hear more about “My ePortfolio,” or some of the other features that are a part of Project Share, feel free to contact Instructional Technology here at ESC Region XIII, or email You can also register for free to the Project Share: ePortfolio video series (SU1224505) to learn more.



E.R. Cohn, and B.J. Hibbitts. “Beyond the electronic portfolio: a lifetime personal web space,” Educause Quarterly, 27, no. 4 (2004), accessed July 22, 2012,


G. Lorenzo, & J. Ittelson, J.” An overview of e-portfolios,” EduCause Learning Initiative Paper 1 (2005, July).


H. C. Barrett, “Collaborative planning for electronic portfolios: Asking strategic questions.” Last modified 1997,


“OnTRACK for College Readiness,” Institute for Public School Initiatives, last modified 2010,



M. Ramirez,  “Ferpa and student work: Considerations for electronic theses and dissertations,” The Magazine of Digital Library Research, January 2010, accessed July 20, 2012,






Flooding the Gap

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Kathy Clapsaddle, Coordinator, Special Education

Vocabulary matters.  We know that children from poverty come to school with a significant vocabulary gap.  Make that a 30 million word gap in words heard by age 4 (Hart and Risley, 1995).  Similar statistics hold true for children with language learning difficulties.  Those oral language gaps can translate to a 5 year difference in reading age level by kindergarten.  So how do we bridge the gap?

Brabham and colleagues (2012) suggest a strategy called “vocabulary flooding.”  Traditional reading programs only teach around 400 words a year, but typical children learn 3,000 words or more a year.  That’s 10 words a day.  But it’s not just increasing the number of words taught.  We also need strategies for organizing and teaching words so students don’t drown in the flood!   Here are 2 ideas.

Concept eggs help students understand relationships between related words and learn new words for known concepts.  Consider organizing a word wall with concept eggs to allow students to make connections between words.   As students read new texts and learn new words, they can add additional words to the egg.  This also translates to a vehicle for finding new and better words for writing.


Students often struggle with understanding broad category words (e.g., furniture) and how exemplars fit into that category (e.g., couch, table, dresser), specifically how those different-appearing items are related.  Semantic feature charts visually show those relationships.



Place to Sit




















Think of other tools in your toolbox for helping students make connections between words.


E. Brabham, C. Buskist, S.C . Henderson, T. Paleologos, and N. Buagh, “(2012).  Flooding Vocabulary Gaps to Accelerate Word Learning,” The Reading Teacher 65(8) (2012), 523-533.

B. Hart & T. Risley, Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. (New York: Paul. H. Brookes Publishing, 1995).

Getting to Know your English Language Learners

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:   Janet O’Keeffe  Project Coordinator, ESL/Bilingual Programs

Another school year is beginning and there are so many things teachers are responsible for as they prepare for a new group of students.  Teachers are anxious to get their class rosters to find out which students they will be working with during the new school year.  As you review your rosters, you may subconsciously group them into two categories:  students that are easy to work with and students who are difficult.  It is important, regardless of the category in which you place them, to get to know all of your students so that you can meet their needs and help them be academically successful.  This article is going to focus on getting to know your English language learners (ELLs) and provide some tips for welcoming these students, promoting English language development and promoting academic achievement.

One of the most important things to know about your ELLs is their level of English proficiency as this is the key to meeting their needs.  ELLs can be classified into four categories of English proficiency:  beginning, intermediate, advanced, or advanced high.  Students who have previously attended Texas schools have taken the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment (TELPAS) and will have results of this assessment in their permanent record file.  Students who are new to the United States are given language proficiency assessments that are also located in the student’s permanent record.  These assessments are scored a little differently from TELPAS but can still provide you with information regarding the student’s English language proficiency.

There is some basic information about the different levels of proficiency that is important for you to know as you begin to plan instruction.  Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning Intermediate Advanced Advanced High
Beginning ELLs have little or no ability to understand English used in academic and social settings. Intermediate ELLs have the ability to understand simple, high frequency English used in routine academic and social settings. Advanced ELLs have the ability to understand, with support, grade-appropriate English used in academic and social settings. Advanced high ELLs have the ability to understand, with minimum support, grade appropriate English used in academic and social settings.


As you can see, there is tremendous difference between the beginning student and the student at the advanced high level of English proficiency.  So let’s explore some ideas that will help you get off to a great start.

Welcoming ELLs

First impressions are lasting and so it’s critical that you ensure students feel welcome and that they are in a safe, friendly and supporting environment.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be aware of your body language.  Greeting students with a friendly face will remove some of the student’s anxiety about being in a new environment.  Negative body language can instantly create a barrier between you and the student that may take a long time to remove.
  • Be prepared for students who may not come equipped.  Having a welcome kit available that has pencils, pens, crayons, paper, etc., will ensure students are prepared to participate in activities you have planned.  Also, including a map of the school or taking the class on a school tour can be helpful.
  • Find out about the students’ families, home life, and personal interests.  This may provide information that will help you know how to address future situations.  For example, a student may not complete homework assignments which can lead to frustration from both you and the student.  But if you are aware that there are many people living in the house and there is no quiet place for the student to complete assignments, you can problem solve beforehand to find alternatives that make a win-win situation.  Learning what interests your students can also be a connection you can make when teaching academic content.
  • Provide multi-cultural literature at different reading levels and display artifacts from your students’ cultures.  When your class sees you are inclusive of all cultures, they view the class as one community that embraces cultural similarities and differences.

Developing Language

The English Language Proficiency Standards, ELPS, require all content and special area teachers to take steps necessary to develop English for ELLs.  As you know, developing a second language takes time, energy, and practice.  Helping ELLs develop English can be done without a great deal work by following some of the suggestions below.

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with one another.  Group activities can always get students talking.  Students at the beginning or intermediate levels of English proficiency may not be able to engage in conversations like students at higher levels of proficiency, but don’t think they are not benefiting from these types of activities.  It provides opportunities for them to hear the language and acquire language naturally when they interact with English speaking peers.
  • Develop key vocabulary using Total Physical Response (TPR).  Total Physical Response uses commands that require a physical response from the students.  For example, think of some key terms that you use routinely in the classroom (line up, open your book, sharpen your pencil, etc.).  You can demonstrate these terms or phrases and have the students practice the responses with you.  Eventually, the students will be able to respond on their own and over time will acquire such phrases.  The same method can be used to teach academic vocabulary, too.
  • Implement alternative responses.  Students at lower levels of English proficiency will only be able to respond with one or two words, short phrases, or sentences that are made up of broken English.  Using colored cards to indicate their response to a question is one way you can support ELLs.  Green could represent “yes,” red could represent “no,” and yellow could represent “I don’t know.”  Thumbs up, thumbs down or sideways might be another alternative.  This is also helpful because some newcomer ELLs may go through a silent period where they don’t respond because they are taking in the new language, so the more comfortable you can make them feel the faster they will get out of the silent period.
  • Allow more response time.  Students who are learning a new language need time to process questions and their responses.  Using a think-pair-share strategy gets the entire class engaged and ensures ELLs have time to process.  With this strategy, pose your question, allow time for students to think on their own, have them share their response with a partner, then solicit responses from the class.  This strategy will help you avoid those awkward silent moments.

Content Area Learning

One of the greatest concerns you’ll probably have about ELLs in your class is how you are going to teach them the required content.  This is when you want to walk a mile in their shoes.  Asking yourself what you would like for the teacher to do for you if you were learning a second language is where you’ll find the answers.   To foster content learning, try some of these ideas.

  • Implement the use of journals.  Allow students to draw or write in their native language to make connections to new content.
  • Utilize structured note-taking.  Provide notes for students that have key words or phrases missing.  Students listen for those missing parts and fill them in as they go.  For some students, you may need to provide a word bank to assist them.
  • Develop word walls for content vocabulary.  Including images or the native language term can also make content more accessible.
  • Use visuals and gestures during instruction.  Showing an image, video clip, or a real object makes understanding new terms clear to students.  Gesturing by pointing or acting out a new concept can also help clarify new or difficult content.
  • Engage students using hands-on activities.  Many students learn by doing and will retain the information for a longer period of time.
  • Provide bilingual dictionaries.  Having bilingual dictionaries in the classroom is one way to provide a tool for students that can be accessed independently; however, for this to be effective, students must know how to use them.

Celebrate Success

Celebrating our students’ successes is often a process we overlook because we get so caught up in moving to what’s next.  Learning a new language is very challenging and by getting to know where your students are and frequently monitoring their progress to find something new they have learned, no matter how small it may seem, is critical when it comes to keeping students motivated to continue this difficult process.  Students frequently are criticized for their inadequacies both at school and home so celebrating in your classroom may be the only place students hear words of encouragement.  Here are some ideas for recognizing students’ accomplishments.

  • Provide meaningful praise.  Be specific about the student’s accomplishment rather than “good job” or “great work.”
  • Send a letter or card to parents.  Students want their parents to be proud of their accomplishments, too.  Parents are not always use to receiving notification about something positive their child has done and will appreciate your effort.
  • Ring the bell.  Have a bell that you can ring to capture students’ attention then share the news with the entire class.

As you begin to plan, consider by getting to know your students. You’ll improve communication, establish trust, have a better understanding of how each student learns, and help students grow intellectually and socially.