Archive for March, 2014

In This Issue (12)

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014


In This Issue (12)

Academic Conversations for Diverse Learners: The First Steps

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Tonia Miller, Education Specialist: ESL/Bilingual

Reasons for Students to Converse in Schools

“I didn’t know what I knew until I talked about it”

–Seventh-grade science student  (Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

We use language to represent our thinking and, in turn, the act of producing language, through speaking or writing, itself helps us both process and retain information. Given this, it seems natural we would want classrooms to be filled with talking students since we want them to be thinking about the content we are teaching (Fisher et al. 2008).

Rich academic conversations can be powerful tools in schools to build:

  • oral language and communication skills
  • literacy skills
  • academic language and vocabulary
  • critical thinking skills
  • creativity and academic ambience
  • relationships
  • empathy and the understanding of different perspectives
  • skills for negotiating meaning and focusing on a topic
  • content understandings
  • the ability to cultivate connections
  • students’ capacity to co-construct understanding
  • teachers and students’ abilities to assess learning
  • culturally relevant lessons
  • equity in student experiences
  • inner dialogue and self-talk
  • engagement and motivation

(Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

However, most of our students, and particularly English language learners (ELLs), do not walk into our classrooms with the tools necessary to engage in purposeful, academic conversations with their peers. We must explicitly teach these skills, while providing an environment conducive to, and in which students are held accountable for, language learning and speaking academically.

For most educators, it is common knowledge that young children learn to listen and speak before they learn to read and write. Additionally, we know that those children who develop these primary skills will transition much more easily to reading and writing tasks since oral language provides a firm foundation for literacy. Unfortunately, we often neglect to apply this knowledge of language learning to our older students who are learning English, as many classrooms particularly in secondary schools, do not often depart from a lecture style of teaching.

The academic vocabulary of our classrooms must first become part of students’ working oral vocabulary before we can expect them to fully comprehend these terms when reading or apply them in writing. Subsequently, ELLs need frequent, structured opportunities in class to develop academic oral language.  There is a great deal of preparation that goes into realizing this objective. Fisher et al. (2008) support this notion by stating, “We don’t want students to simply talk; we want them to engage in highly academic and oral discourse, using the language and vocabulary of the discipline to talk about grade-level content. And just as we prepare students to read or to write, we must prepare them to talk.”


Getting Started with Academic Conversations

“It was weird. When we finished talking, we had a totally new idea.”

– Sixth-grade student  (Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

Setting the expectation for academic discourse should begin at the onset of a school year. Students need to understand that an essential part of being successful in class will depend upon their ability to engage in academic conversations. A good place to start is to define what conversation is, and possibly more importantly, what it is not. Many students may believe that the goal of conversation is to win an argument. While debate does certainly have a place in academic discourse, students need to understand that primarily conversation “is a process of bringing your ideas to the table, sharing them, and shaping them as you listen to the ideas of another person. All partners should walk away with new ideas. Rather than winning, the goal is learning.” (Zwiers & Crawford 2011)

Additionally, students need to be taught the acceptable parameters for academic conversations.  A good way to accomplish this is to establish discussion norms. Students will need to be involved in this process and the teacher may facilitate a discussion around questions like: How you can tell if someone is or is not listening to you? How does it feel when someone interrupts you while you are speaking? What happens when one person dominates a conversation? How can we respectfully disagree with another’s opinion? Students can develop sentence stems related to the norms that may be posted in the room as a reminder and an anchor of reference for students when engaged in conversations. For ideas about using anchor charts and sentence stems, go to

Reinforce these norms by assessing them often. Praise students that adhere to the discussion norms and involve students in group or self-assessment of their conversations. Students can use checklists or rubrics to determine if, or how well, they are using effective conversations skills, such as:

  • staying focused on the topic
  • building on another’s idea
  • supporting ideas with examples or evidence
  • respectfully negotiating an idea when in disagreement
  • maintaining eye contact and using good conversational body language
  • choosing the most academic ways of talking

(Zwiers & Crawford 2011)


Student Interaction Practice Activities

There are numerous activities students can engage in to get them talking about your classroom content. While they may not quite meet the criteria of an academic conversation, they are useful in training students to speak with their peers in a structured manner, which will scaffold and support the more autonomous conversation work that will come as the school year progresses.

The following sample partner and group activities, as well as many others, can be explored at Region 13’s

  • Inside/Outside Circle
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Nothing Ventured
  • Back and Forth
  • Password
  • Turn-and-Talk


Next Steps for Building Academic Conversations

To extend and deepen the conversation skills practiced during student interaction activities, the next step is to instruct students in engaging in actual academic conversations. Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford have written extensively in Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings about teaching students the five core skills their research has identified as making conversations more academic:

  1. Elaborate and clarify
  2. Support ideas with examples
  3. Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas
  4. Paraphrase
  5. Synthesize conversation points

(2011, p. 31)

Zwiers and Crawford (2011) have designed an Academic Conversation Placemat which incorporates both question prompts and response starters for each of the five previously mentioned core conversations skills. Each conversation skill has an associated symbol, providing a visual connection, and hand gesture, providing a kinesthetic connection, to help students remember and focus on the goal when practicing a particular skill.  These frames for discussion become more and more natural for students over time, provided they are given enough exposure to teacher modeling and supported practice.  For more information about the Academic Conversation Placemat and other tools to use to foster academic conversations in your classroom, visit



The Teacher Toolkit. Accessed March 5, 2014.

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg. Content-Area Conversations: How to Plan Discussion-Based Lessons for Diverse Language Learners. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.

Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Addressing the Background Knowledge Deficit in the Language Arts Classroom

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Authors: Lenicia Kinney Gordon and Janet Hester, Literacy Specialists

Let’s face it. The ones we worry about come to us with less than half of the experiences, words, and home-support for acquisition of these foundations of our other students. Furthermore, the “other” students are actually the minority for many of our districts, campuses, and classrooms.

So, what do we do? How can we make up for lost time to give our students the support they need to access a reservoir of schema in order to make connections to new information and think at deeper levels, read at higher levels, and write on grade level when they do not walk through our doors with a  reservoir of schema?

Through our reading of the literature, hearing the sentinel statements from experts in the field at conferences such as IRA, TCTELA, Region 13 Distinguished Speaker Series, and through our own direct work with teachers and districts, we think there are things we can do:

1)      Use rich mentor texts to engage students, motivate students, connect students, and to EXPLICITLY teach skills through them.

2)      Teach kids how to access their stories and EXPLICTLY show them that not only DO they have rich stories but that these stories are worth telling and should be told.


Mentor Texts

Mentor texts can be anything from excerpts to entire pieces of professionally published work (both from hardcopy sources and Internet-based sources) to student writing samples which can be found in your classroom, on the TEA website and at the Lead4ward website to name a few.

Mentor texts can be used to explicitly teach aspects of author’s craft, making inferences, literary elements, and features of the expository or narrative form, etc.  For these specific skills, it is best to choose short, high-interest, exemplar texts of the skill on which you are teaching. Students should be given multiple opportunities to read, re-read, discuss, and write about these mentor texts. Through multiple touches of these rich texts, the students begin to adopt them as part of their own reservoir of schema. We build background knowledge by building positive and consistent experiences around text. (Longer texts, where you want students to begin building stamina and practicing the skills taught through the short mentor texts, can be championed in the arena of independent reading.) For more information about how to use mentor texts, check out the books and works of Gretchen Bernabei, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, Stephanie Harvey, and  Jeff Anderson.

For more information on a running a successful, standards-based, and a deliberate independent reading program consider the work of Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, and of Lisa Donahue, Independent Reading Inside the Box.

Here is how two educators successfully grounded their reading and writing instruction in the use of mentor texts: “Using Mentor Texts to Coach Expository Writing in Small Groups”

BONUS HINT: Read Aloud to your students EVERY DAY….and yes, in high school, too!


Creating a student “bank” of true stories

One idea, which has been described by many leaders in the field – Joyce Armstrong Carroll, Peter Stillman, Tina Angelo of Houston-based Writers in the Schools (WITS), and many others – is called a Memory Blueprint.


Image courtesy of Katey Schultz


Ms. Angelo has said, “This writing activity based on our memories really embodies the basic philosophy of Writers in the Schools (WITS) . Valuing the child and his/her personal stories is central to the WITS approach to teaching creative writing. Each of the 80+ writers that go into classrooms to work with Houston-area students encourages them to write from their memories, thus giving them voice and ownership of their writing.  Also, we have a sister organization in Austin (Badgerdog) that works within the Austin Public Library system. The Program Director is Cecily Sailer who can be reached at”  This strategy not only contributes to brainstorming for creative writing but also provides a bank for specific details and examples in informational writing.


1)      Draw an approximate floor plan of a place where you have lived.

2)      Label each room according to what it was, what it was used for, or who primarily used it.

3)      On another sheet of paper, draw columns for each room and write appropriate headings.

4)      Quickly list objects, events, and memories as individual words or phrases as they occur to you.

5)      When you have listed as much as you can, circle the words or phrases that grab your attention.

6)      Draw lines between any items that seem to connect with each other.

7)      Choose a single item or a connected pair.  Freewrite about images, memories, or emotions—whatever is triggered by the word or connected pair.

8)      This drawing can be revisited and “harvested” again and again for seed essays to be used for both narrative and expository writing.


“It is the act of writing, reading, and remembering our own homes—the smells from the kitchen, the whispers from the bedroom, the sliver of light at the bottom of a closed door—that brings us together.  It is what brings us home.”  Sharon Sloan Fiffer (1995)


Students actually do, in fact, have schema….even if it is the simplest story of grandma walking you to school and the things you see, hear, and smell along the way, or a description of how it feels to be in your uncle’s garage, or your dad’s barber shop, or watch your mother make dinner…Students may not realize how rich their life experiences really are; we have to explicitly show them.

For more ideas about activities to inspire kids to realize the rich bank of memories and experiences they have, look to the work of Gretchen Bernabei, Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Anderson, and Lucy Calkins.

Naturally, we cannot provide students with all the experiences that their more fortunate counterparts already have in the bank, but there is still so much we can add to their understanding of the world through connecting them to great writing and helping them recognize their own stories. This is a way we can support them in becoming the readers and writers they have every right to be.


For more information about sources of texts and resources, please feel free to contact us!




Thank you to Katey Schultz for permission to use her Memory Blueprint image.  Katey’s blog can be found at


Early Childhood Math

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Authors:  Region 13 School Ready Team

What does quality math instruction look like in a Pre-K classroom?

Is doing math during “calendar time” enough to teach all the Pre-K Guidelines?

What type of math lessons should principals expect to see in Pre-K lesson plans?

Though most educators agree that literacy should receive prime focus in Pre-K, not all agree on the importance of also focusing heavily on math.  Yet, research shows that a child’s math skills can predict her reading success.* One study found that math skills in kindergarten were the primary predictor of later academic success (Duncan, Greg. “Achievement, Attention, and Behavior Across Middle Childhood.” School of Education – University of California, Irvine).

So, what does quality math instruction for 3-5 year olds look like? After a rigorous review of the research (What Works Clearinghouse and the Department of Education, November 2013), the Institute for Education Sciences found that when the following items were thoroughly in place, children’s math skills improved:

Math should be taught following a developmental progression.
While this may seem obvious, many teachers are not aware of the sequence of math learning and/or do not follow it. For example, some Pre-K teachers introduce operations—which is not a Pre-K Guideline—before teaching children how to compare quantities.

Regular progress monitoring should provide checks for understanding as well as information the teacher can use to differentiate instruction.

Children should be taught to use language and recordings to articulate their mathematical understanding.

Math should be taught throughout the day and across the curriculum.
Math instruction can be integrated into read alouds, centers, transitions, and daily routines.

 The information above makes it clear that teaching math primarily through “calendar time” is insufficient. Teachers need to offer explicit math instruction at least 3-5 times weekly (3 times for half day Pre-K, 5 times for full day Pre-K) followed by opportunities for children to apply their new math knowledge. This may take the form of a whole group math lesson followed by math stations. In math stations, children work in 4-6 groups on teacher-assigned math games and activities.



For more math station examples, see our Pinterest board.

Most importantly, children must be given structured, hands-on opportunities to practice new concepts. A teacher’s lesson plan should indicate plans for both explicit instruction AND opportunities for independent practice through math stations, small groups, and/or other meaningful formats.

The School Ready website provides a helpful Pre-K math lesson observation form aligned to the PDAS domains.


Questions to Consider:

Eight Language Program Models: Four Linguistic Roads

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Tracy Dennis, Bilingual/ESL Education Specialist

All students must travel down the educational super highway. However, English language learners (ELL) must be diverted down different educational roads in order to keep up with the regular population. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 fired up states, districts, and schools to construct and/or reconstruct alternate routes along the American highway of education.

A variety of language program models are utilized to assist ELL students, so they can shift gears and reach the same speed linguistically as other students. Eight language models being implemented today are ESL pullout, ESL class period, sheltered instruction, newcomers program, transitional bilingual education, developmental bilingual education, and dual language program.  Four specialized roads and/or routes have been built along the super highway to provide ELL students with assistance: the “pullout feeder road,” the “ELL cul-de-sac,” the “bilingual one-way street” and the “bilingualism two-lane highway.”

In Table 1, Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models, 7 models are compared and contrasted by definition, characteristics of students served, which grade levels are offered in the program, entry grade stipulations, goals of the program, the number of years students can participate, and the qualifications of teachers (Genesee 1999).  Each language program model tries to help ELL students merge onto this busy and fast-paced education highway, but which model is better?

Table 1

Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models


Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models

(Click link above to download a copy of Table 1.)

Some ELL students are sent down the same highway of education as regular students, but are given more rest stops along the way. Pullout ESL programs place ELL students in the slow right lane of the highway, so students can fuel up with small group or individualized ESL instruction outside of the mainstream classroom. ELL students receive personalized attention and instruction. Nevertheless, ESL pullout is the most expensive of all language program models and is the least effective model (as cited in Ovando et al. 2003). Students pull off the education highway onto the “pullout feeder road” for extra English instruction. When this happens, ELL students miss out on classroom instruction and tend to feel isolated. An alternative road currently under way is the “ESL team teach road” with the ESL and mainstream teachers working as a team. Yet, these teachers must “share equal teaching responsibilities for the whole class, have joint planning time, and collaborate well together.” (Ovando, p. 74)  ESL team teaching allows ELL students to be on the highway without having to exit frequently, yet students still get the roadside assistance they might need.

ESL programs that provide specific classes for ESL students are similar to being on a cul-de-sac surrounded by other ELL students yet still within the mainstream educational community. ESL students might have regular classes for math, science and social studies but have special ESL classes for reading and writing. Also on the “ELL cul-de-sac” is sheltered instruction where students are provided more linguistic modifications and clarifications during content instruction. “Sheltered instruction provides students with continuing English language development, access to the core curriculum, and opportunities for classroom interaction.” (Ovando et al. 2003) The newcomer program in this cul-de-sac is designed for new immigrant students, usually at the middle school or high school level. This High Intensity Language Training (HILT) uses ESL instruction in content area classes, usually incorporating sheltered instruction, and then mainstreams students into linguistically less demanding classes such as music, physical education, and art. (McKeon 1987) The “ELL cul-de-sac” nurtures students as they acquire the English language while giving students access to the super highway curriculum.

The one-way street language program consists of students with the same first language traveling together to gain knowledge. This street has a fork in the road, where some ELL students are driven down the “transitional bilingual street,” or “early exit,” and others take the “developmental bilingual street,” or “late exit.” Transitional bilingual education uses students’ first language to develop English skills needed to quickly move onto the super highway of education. Bilingualism is used to transition students to all English instruction. (Genesee 1999) “The highest priority of most transitional bilingual programs is teaching English, with the goal of mainstreaming students into grade level classes as soon as possible.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Developmental bilingual education seeks to obtain fluency in both languages before releasing students. Students are mainstreamed based on English proficiency that is sufficient for sustaining academic achievement in an all-English classroom (McKeon 1987). Another route constructed is the One-Way Dual Language, which supports “one language” groups of students to become bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. Curriculum is separated 50/50 into two languages for instruction, consisting of no translation and no repeated lessons in the other language. The language of instruction is dependent on the content area. The goal of the One-Way Dual Language is to develop students’ English proficiency while maintaining their native language proficiency.

The bilingualism two-lane highway offers native English speakers and limited English speakers the ability to develop fluency in two languages. This highway may soon be the route of choice for helping all students to have the extra edge of being bilingual. On this highway, bilingual education is for all, not just for ELL. “Two-way bilingual programs integrate language minority and language majority students in a school setting that promotes full bilingual proficiency and high academic achievement for both groups of students.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Dual language programs, originally developed in Canada in the 1960’s, allow for students to learn from each other and develop a sense of community and appreciation of different cultures. (Ovando et al. 2003) In order to construct this two-lane highway of bilingual education, there must be a common second language and a group of native English speakers willing to participate.

Currently, choosing the best language program model is often not centered on what is best for each individual child. The road students are given depends on the district’s and school’s demographics and available resources, as well as the ethnic relations within school and community and the national, state and local political climate. (Mora n.d.) In fact, principals’ and administrators’ knowledge of second language acquisition and attitudes towards ELL affects the services provided. (Mora n.d.)

Districts may implement a model because of the ELL population, lack of available teachers, and/or the district’s priorities. “The design of any ESL program must take so many factors into account that it is difficult to decide which program organization is best for a given set of circumstances.” (McKeon 1987) A district may choose pullout because of the variety of languages spoken by the populations of their ELL students. Or they may choose bilingual education because so many ELL students speak the same first language. If a student is a new immigrant at the middle school or high school level, then they might choose ESL classes, sheltered instruction and/or the newcomer program. All of these language models help students become successful. In a perfect world, though, schools would employ all language models to meet the needs of each individual student.

Advancing into the 21st century will require the rebuilding of America’s educational super highway. The United States is one of the few countries that only teach their children one language. Dual language programs should be promoted to ensure that all of our children are able to compete with the global market because “the 32 million Americans who speak languages in addition to English are at a competitive advantage.” (Jackson-Lee 1996).



Crandall, J. 1994. Content-centered language learning. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005, from


Echevarria, J., & Short, D. n.d. The sheltered instruction observation protocol (SIOP).

Retrieved November 17, 2005.


Genesee, F. 1999. Program alternatives for the linguistically diverse students. Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence, 1-49. Retrieved Nov. 19, 2005 from CREDE Publications and Products database.


Jackson-Lee, S. 1996. Debate on English only legislation. Message posted to U.S. House of Representatives archived at


McKeon, D. 1987. Different types of ESL programs. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from


Mora, J. n.d. Sheltered immersion. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from


NCLB Action Briefs. Programs of English language learners (n.d.). Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2005, from


Ovando, C.J., V.P. Collier, and M.C. Combs. 2003. Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in multicultural contexts (3rd ed.).Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Rennie, J. 1993. ESL and bilingual program models. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from

Maintaining Metaphase Momentum in the Expository Writing Process

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Cortney Esquitin, Instructional Coach 

To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential.  It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art but the selection, balance and design of those ideas.       ~Lucy Calkins


The “new” buzz word in education these days is metacognition, and it is the loaded language of every workshop blurb or professional book. John Flavell’s distilled definition, released in 1976, of thinking about thinking is nothing new. So what’s the big deal with metacognition now?  Figure 19.

Since teachers are given the developmental norms for metacognition at each grade level for reading, there is an urgency to push kids in a sequenced, linear manner of thinking at different levels. Teachers implement student strategies during reading to generate questions, recognize when they have lost the meaning and summarize throughout. All of which are metacognitive strategies.  Students are more likely to remember what they have read and interpret meaning correctly when practicing this process.  (Beck and McGowen 2006)

Unfortunately, there is not a Figure 19 for the metacognitive stages of writing.  Teachers only have the writing process itself to rely upon.  This has caused many students to come to us like the Tin Man—they have rusty skills, stiff dialogue and, for the most part, are writing without heart.  As the demands of STAAR writing increase, teachers are now feeling the pressure to understand what they can do to better support students.  Somehow the writing process has become just another assignment instead of an instructional pattern.

Understanding that the writing process itself is metacognition in action and a source of student support is our first step.  Many times the writing process is treated as a sprint to the finish line of the final draft without a process really taking place. The writing process should be treated as conditioning for the marathon. “Writing is an act of meaning production” that involves use of metacognitive monitoring strategies through “reading, re-reading, reflecting, and reviewing” and the use of metacognitive control strategies through “editing, drafting, idea generation, word production, translation and revision.”  Hacker, Keener, and Kircher (2009) argue that the explicit and implicit use of these strategies is a metacognitive process and what translates one’s thoughts into writing— hence, writing is applied metacognition. Teaching writing needs to be linked to the metacognition done during reading. This is a necessary scaffolding piece of learning to write well.

Educators ask what will get students to push through the intricate stages of the writing process? They must recognize the breakdown of student learning during the process.  Research shows that students are most comfortable in the pre-writing and planning stages. Teachers are excellent at engaging students in activities that include connections and organizers.  Thinking comes with ease at this stage.  When teachers turn students loose to draft and re-draft the essay, they are on their own to translate ideas and formulate words into meaning. This is when momentum stalls and sometimes dies because students do not have the metacognitive strategies to keep them going. As they begin editing, momentum picks back up because they are in a comfort zone of skills practiced since elementary. (Graham and Perin 2007)

The sequence for “launching” a writing strategy is most efficient when infused with lessons for reading.  Since reading and writing work in tandem, educators are now charged with taking writing to the metacognitive depths to which we generally take reading.  This sequence includes the following: mental models, questioning, think-alouds and verbalization that keep students engaged and pushes them through the gap of isolation. If students feel as though they are alone and not empowered by their teacher and peers, then educators are missing the opportunity to foster success.

In the past, standardized tests required students to produce writing devoid of social and cultural interaction and emphasized the lower level skills of mechanics and language. New standards are the opposite and as a result, the metacognition needed to push through the writing process is more demanding. Building a toolbox of thinking will allow students to scaffold writing strategies and prepare them for high stakes testing.



Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.

Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2006).  Improving Comprehension with Questioning the Author.  New York, NY: Scholastic.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., Jayne Hover, and Cynthia Candler. Crunchtime: Lessons to Help Students Blow the Roof off Writing Tests–and Become Better Writers in the Process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., and Dorothy P. Hall. The Story of My Thinking: Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012. Print.

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E.Wilson. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing. Teacher Ideas Press, 1993.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E.Wilson. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing Second Edition. Teacher Ideas Press, 2008.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong. "Teaching the Thesis." School Library Monthly. : November 2012. (pp. 18-20) Print.

Cole, Joni.  Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive.  University Press of New England, 2006.

Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Texts and Lessons for Content-area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Folkman, Joseph R. The Power of Feedback. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.

Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su. Pinnell. Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System 2 Grades 3-8, Levels L-Z. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Francescani, Chris. “Friends Mourn Teenager Killed in New Jersey Party Bus Accident.” Chicago Tribune [Chicago] 01 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Geye, Susan. Mini Lessons for Revision: How to Teach Writing Skills, Language Usage, Grammar, and Mechanics in the Writing Process. Spring, TX: Absey &, 1997. Print.

New Educator Evaluation System Ahead

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

In spring 2012, based on feedback from the field, the Texas Education Agency began taking steps to overhaul state systems for training, evaluating, and supporting teachers throughout Texas. This process has included multiple iterations of stakeholder input, piloting of innovative evaluation systems, and the development of new standards for teachers. The Agency is now ready to take those efforts to the next level and begin implementation of new, better-aligned tools and resources related to evaluation and professional development for teachers. Toward this end, TEA will be piloting a new state-approved teacher evaluation system in approximately 70 districts in the 2014-2015 school year with statewide implementation beginning in 2015-2016.

The state’s goal for the new evaluation systems is to shift the culture of appraisals from a compliance-based exercise to one of support and collaboration for all educators on a campus.

For more information, go to

A New Math STAAR

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Fredric Noriega

Texas is set to implement the revised math standards during the 2014-2015 school year for grades kindergarten through 8. High school math teachers will implement new math standards in their courses for the following year, 2015-16. Along with the implementation of the new math standards we are going to see a very different Math STAAR than we had originally anticipated. Depending on the grade level, some of these changes are either a blessing or a curse. Here are the changes we can expect:

All new TEKS are fair game

TEA originally made the decision to only assess the “overlapping” TEKS during the first year of implementation. In other words, only those concepts and skills that could be found in both the current and revised TEKS would be assessed. This was a relief for many math teachers, especially those grade levels that are seeing a lot of new material in their standards. Many teachers, campuses and districts decided that it would be in the best interest of the students to teach material that was new  ̶  the non-overlapping standards  ̶  after the STAAR test next spring. This way students could focus on the “overlap” or assessed material and be well-prepared for the STAAR test. TEA recently announced (during the week of Feb. 17, 2014) that the STAAR exam during the first year of new TEKS implementation will focus solely on the revised standards, regardless of whether or not the content is new to the grade level. This decision was based on the fact that in certain grades there is not enough overlap between the current and new standards to use for creating an assessment. Those teachers that had planned to focus on teaching the new content after STAAR will now have to adjust their plan since students will see assessment questions based on those standards. Consider the revised math standard 5.3K: add and subtract positive rational numbers fluently. A current 4th grade student is learning how to add and subtract whole numbers. In 5th grade they will need to learn how to add/subtract fractions with common and uncommon denominators. This is a very big leap in content for students, and possibly even for the teacher.

New Testing Format

Since all new standards will be eligible on the STAAR assessment we also have new resources. TEA has made the following available:

  • Assessed Curriculum Documents. These documents identify the new Reporting Categories. New Supporting and Readiness standards are identified as well as which standards are eligible for testing.
  • Blueprints. These documents give an at-a-glance look at the reporting categories including supporting and readiness standards.  They also act as a guide in determining how many STAAR questions can be expected from each reporting category.
  • Reference Materials. These documents include formulas and conversion tables that students will be able to use on the STAAR exam.

All of these documents can be found by visiting the TEA webpage at

Calculators are required on the 8th grade STAAR

The new 8th grade standards place a strong emphasis on developing algebraic skills and, because of this, TEA has decided that students will require the use of a calculator. Many middle school campuses may only have one set of graphing calculators per math teacher, but that may not be enough to offer 1:1 calculators during testing. Some schools are planning to borrow calculators from the local high school, while other schools and districts are trying to find money in their budgets to purchase more calculators.  Another option currently under pilot for 8th grade math students for the 2014-2015 school year is to use a graphing calculator app on a tablet or non-smart phone mobile device.

Algebra 2 EOC is back

The Algebra 2 STAAR EOC assessment is going to return during the 2014-2015 school year; however, TEA is making the assessment optional; the results are only going to be used to determine college academic readiness and will not be used for accountability purposes. Note: TEA has made the assessment optional for students taking Algebra 2; however, a district could make the decision to require Algebra 2 students to take the exam.


The information here was shared by TEA at the Spring TASM meeting on Feb. 21, 2014.

Science in the Age of Globalization

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist

The world is shrinking, not in the literal sense, but in the sense that increasingly academic endeavors and businesses are global in nature.  Researchers around the world collaborate, sharing techniques, data and conclusions.  Businesses rely on products and services from across the globe and offer their goods internationally.  Technology has sped up the rate at which globalization is occurring.  Part of preparing students for post-secondary success is preparing them for changes globalization brings such as cultural sensitivity, global collaboration and an understanding of the world beyond their hometown.


There are several ways teachers can help prepare students for globalization.

Utilizing Data from the Internet

One of the easiest ways is to incorporate data from around the world.  Examples of data that might be of interest:

  • Climate and weather
  • Seasonal changes
  • Proportion of energy from renewable resources
  • Rate of vaccination compared with incidences of disease
  • Agricultural productivity


Students as Researchers

Students can also become part of collecting data and sharing it internationally.  Several projects exist to help students as researchers, including GLOBE and the World MOON Project.



Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) is a well-established program intended to allow schools to collect and interact with environmental data.  With over 27,000 schools participating, they have a world-wide network of partner schools in 112 countries.  Schools must have a GLOBE-trained teacher in order to register to enter most data. The GLOBE at Night project is very accessible and is a great tool for teaching the nature of science.


World MOON Project (

Students from all over the world are asked to observe the moon and identify patterns to gain a deeper understanding about the moon’s appearance.  Short essays based on student observations are collected by the World MOON (More Observation of Nature) Project. Participants then receive a packet of essays from other parts of the world so students are given both a local and global perspective. Students learn to observe nature firsthand and are engaged in global collaboration.  Teachers may choose to emphasize different aspects of the project to meet own needs of their curriculum standards, and participation in the World MOON Project can emphasize curricular goals in one or more of the following areas:

  • Lunar phases
  • Inquiry skills
  • Nature of science


Students as Collaborators

The most advanced form of global collaboration involves students actively communicating and working with students from another location to complete a project or accomplish a task.  Projects students work on are varied and limited only by the imagination of the students and teachers who are collaborating.  Students may work together to design a robot to walk on Mars, seek better ways to clean water or collaborate on earthquake resistant designs.  Projects of this nature are sometimes provided as structured activities by organizations or can be the brainchild of the teachers involved.  Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis is one of the most popular books on how to set up and manage a global collaboration project.  Some sources of projects and collaborators include:


Interactive Communications and Simulations at the University of Michigan (

Web-based simulations engage students in global collaboration and problem solving.  Projects are set and space is limited.  Most projects are more social studies based, although their Place Out of Time project for this year is focused on a trial that involves seismologists. In this project students play guests at a trial, take on a famous character from history and debate the issue at hand from the viewpoint of their character.  University students act as mentors or “game masters” for many of the simulations to drive the action and respond to students.  This is available free of charge for one year to new schools.



According to their website, iEARN “enables students and teachers to design and participate in global projects as part of their regular and after-school programs.  All projects align to education standards and use a safe and structured online Collaboration Centre.” (, Projects section)  All projects are designed to answer the question, “How will this project improve the quality of life on the planet?”  Participants come from all over the world and collaborate to make a difference while becoming global citizens.  Registration is required for both teachers and participating students.

iEARN provides already established projects or allows for creation of new projects.  They also provide online discussion forums to meet and discuss potential projects with collaborators around the world.  They also provide a how-to-get-started tutorial that outlines the process and provides a to-do list to find and join a project.  Among the projects listed are some dealing with eradication of malaria, deforestation and the impact of people on a local river.


ePals (!/global-community/)

ePals provides a method for connecting with other teachers who are seeking partners from all over the world.  Their database is searchable by region of the world or country, age level of students, project type, duration, type of collaboration and language, allowing, for example, the user to search for science projects taking place in South America.  Some of the projects currently listed included endangered animals, global warming and endemic diseases.

Teacher participants have the ability to either join someone else’s project or to design their own and seek collaborators.  Online tools including school safe email, blogs for both the project leaders and members, file exchange service, discussion forms, a project wiki and calendar are provided to allow for collaboration.  Also provided are resources such as parental consent forms, guidelines for using collaboration tools and user guides for the project leader.


Global SchoolNet (

Global SchoolNet works toward preparing youth in a global economy through content-driven collaboration.  They strive to build teamwork, civic responsibility, workforce preparedness and multi-cultural understanding within participants.  Registration is required and they have 30 current projects including projects on ecosystems, seasonal changes, and space base building.  Services are offered free of charge.  The site includes a registry of more than 3,000 annotated listings to assist users in finding collaborators.

In addition to the current projects which can be joined, participants are able to submit projects for inclusion on the website.  This site provides a potential source of collaborators and a mechanism for advertising projects.


This list of resources is by no means exhaustive. However, it provides a good start for teachers wanting to foster student global collaboration and development of 21st century skills.