Archive for November, 2014

In This Issue (14)

Friday, November 21st, 2014


In This Issue

Dialogic Talk Enriching Our Students’ Reading Metacognition and Close Reading: The Need to Teach Metacognition

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

We know that we must accelerate our students’ rate of literacy growth to close achievement gaps. We know that our emergent readers and writers need targeted literacy intervention in their Reading classes—and also in their general ed English classes. We also know that we must actively work toward engaging our most vulnerable students.

So then, what are the small things we all might tweak in our general ed and intervention classes to enrich literacy experiences? To create academic prompts that add zest and flavor to our students’ interactions with text?

One simple practice we might neglect is the Think Aloud: a teacher modeling the act of reading for students by slowing down the reading and pointing out the moves strong readers make to comprehend and interpret text. Think Alouds are necessary for emergent readers in in grades K-12.  Region 13’s Distinguished Speaker, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels pointed to study after study in the What Works Clearinghouse that demonstrate the efficacy of these hallmark instructional moves—teachers showing and demonstrating to emergent readers the power of reading strategies: making personal connections, questioning, marking confusing text, visualizing, rereading, employing context clues to understand vocabulary. Daniels’ Region 13 Halloween discussion reminded teachers of the need to explicitly demonstrate “slowing down,” “making notes and leaving tracks,” “reading two times, three times,” “noticing, posing questions, pursuing meaning,” and “being a critical, skeptical consumer of text.”

Students need instruction in the metacognition of reading comprehension just as much as they need instruction in ferreting out unsubstantiated opinions in English I, or finding fallacies in persuasive works in 7th grade. In fact, one might argue that students cannot execute the heavy lifting of grade-level standards until they learn to how to negotiate on-level texts using the metacognitive strategies.  Think Alouds that demonstrate reading metacognition are important instructional work.

But then, how do we transfer skills of metacognition to student application? And how and when do we teach our grade-level standards in our general ed classrooms?

It turns out, many teachers are discovering that they can implement strategies that instill habits of mind that allow students to do the work: to practice the metacognition of comprehension and interpretation AND practice grade-level standards. And . . . their students are engaged by the talk surrounding this work. Their buzz is all over Facebook and Twitter professional accounts. Excited teachers are talking about their students’ literacy growth.

@KyleneBeers I’m loving my students thinking using notice and note #NoticeAndNote

— Holly G.-Daly (@genovaLHSH) November 6, 2014

New Habits of Mind that Inspire Dialogic Talk

These teachers are reading the latest from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, authors of Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, which explores the habits of mind described above. (They are both scheduled to speak at the service center on January 14th; we are so excited to host these energizing speakers!) Beers and Probst open their book, and a webinar they recently posted on Heinemann’s website, with a discussion of monologic versus dialogic talk in classrooms. Monologic talk, as defined in Notice & Note, is “authoritative and presumes that the goal of the listener is to agree with or learn from the speaker” (pg. 28). As in Probst’s webinar example, “What were the causes of the Civil War, as evident in the chapter you read last night?” (Beers and Probst, 2014).

Such talk sounds unappealing. Think about our classrooms. Our colleagues’ classrooms. Do we lapse into this monologic talk as we “lecture, explain, impart” (Beers and Probst, 2012, pg. 28)? Beers maintains that these types of questions and responses do not help students create meaning. They are not authentic in that they do not place the student in a true give and take of understanding.

The other type of talk Beers and Probst discuss is dialogic talk: conversations that “expect that speaker becomes listener and listener becomes speaker and that through give-and-take other ideas might emerge” (Beers and Probst, 2012, pg. 28).

I loosely transcribed a clip of student talk from the Beers and Probst webinar that demonstrates dialogic talk. Below is an exchange between five 8th grade students discussing the responses to the prompt: What were the Contrasts and Contradictions, or surprises, you discovered while reading the Langston Hughes short story, “Thank You, Ma’am”? Some snatches of this “first draft” conversation:

“Nowadays people won’t be so considerate. They say, ok, he tried to steal my pocketbook, they try to steal from me, why should I try to be nice to them? Or they might try to lock you up or try to kill you. But she did something different. That’s why this passage surprised me. They acting in a different way than we see in real life.”

“I wonder why he didn’t run when he had the chance . . .”

“I want to know, why did he try to take her pocketbook for only for some shoes? What was so special about the shoes that he wanted them so bad? Did he think that other kids he thought were better than him have them? So he needed to have them?”

“Why would he snatch someone else’s purse? . . . You gotta think about the other person . . . I don’t understand why he would do that.”

“Maybe he wanted them shoes because he never had that. He never had a pair of new shoes. Maybe he always got his brother’s old shoes.”

“But you gotta think about it. Does he have a mom? Does he live with his mom and dad?”

“I still wonder why did she took him in?”

“What was so good about him that she took him in? You see a lot of poor people all around; I don’t take them in my house.”

“Right. And why did she care so much about his appearance?”

“Maybe she had a son. But something happened to her son. So she felt, you know, bad. So she took him in for that point in time and tried to show him right and wrong. Teach him he shouldn’t be taking people’s stuff.”

“Maybe she grew up the same way and she didn’t want him to be like her.”

“She wants him to be better than she was.”

“She said she did some things wrong in her life. She said it.” (Beers and Probst, 2014)

This discussion is a joy to watch and read. When you view the webinar, you see these students unencumbered by a list of teacher-generated questions, even by a teacher. All they were given was one simple prompt: “What surprised you?” They make eye contact, they listen to one another, and they build ideas off of each other’s contributions. All five contribute. And as a group, they are autonomous in teasing out meaning, and even interpreting, the text.

Beers and Probst argue in Notice & Note that dialogic talk stems from habits of mind that teachers may instill in classroom reading. First we teach habits of mind in reading—then students enter text with a framework for understanding any new text. Affective filters go down, they are less intimidated by text, they are more engaged by text, and they have something to say about text.

 Beers and Probst surveyed literature and looked for features that shed light on character development, internal conflict, and theme. The researchers found six “signposts,” or noticeable points in literary texts: Contrasts and Contradictions (which envelopes the “surprise” prompt from the webinar group conversation), Aha Moment, Tough Questions, Words of the Wiser, Again and Again, and Memory Moment. These signposts should be taught one by one. Once a student notices a signposts she should practice answering an accompanying question that will help shed light on character, conflict, or theme.

For example, Contrasts and Contradictions would be taught methodically using a whole-class text. Students would be prompted to find places where characters say or do something that’s the opposite of what one would expect from that character. Then students would stop and ask the accompanying question to Contrasts and Contradictions, “Why is the character doing that?”

Follow this link to the blog post from Left to Our Devices, wherein Tiffany Ortega describes her journey of classroom implementation of the signposts. Like the Notice and Note Book Club on Facebook for regular notices about instructional moves and successful texts in real classrooms. Search Pinterest for templates of classroom materials to edit for your own use. The signposts have infiltrated social media channels as teachers catch on to their potential.


Implications for Texas Teachers

Reading with signposts is a habit of mind, and allows readers to read for a purpose. The signposts are actually hallmarks of literature that appear in our very own TEKS. Check out the number of student expectation correlations to just one of the signposts, Contrasts and Contradictions.

And of course, when we think of Student Expectations with the overlapping requirement of teaching through the lens of Figure 19, the almighty inference standard, we see how the Contrasts and Contradictions signpost can touch any of the genres, even expository and persuasive texts.

Beers and Probst maintain that teachers might certainly teach the metacognitive moves of strong readers: visualizing, predicting, connecting, etc. But they suggest that by teaching the signposts, we are wrapping in the teaching of metacognition. For instance, students naturally make predictions when they ponder a characters’ contrasts and contradictions. They naturally make connections to their own lives when discussing the characters’ surprises.

Teaching signposts spirals in the metacognitive reading process, the practice of slloooowwwwiiing down reading to make the moves of deeper comprehension. And teaching signposts has the extra bonus of comprehending through the lens of author’s craft. Students are continually asking about the author’s purpose in including an Aha! Moment or a Tough Question. By happy coincidence, we are also hitting so many of our student expectations.  The habits of mind are not a layer added on top of our work in teaching the standards—it’s a way through teaching the standards.

And let’s not forget about our perennial concern of student engagement. Using signposts, students have something tangible to bring to partner and small group discussion. They talk and construct their own meaning of the text. They read from an inquiry stance. They make insights. They revisit the text and analyze at all new levels through dialogic talk.

That sounds fantastic.

These strategies speak to me. I would love to visit a class that is using the signposts in Notice & Note, so please let me know if you wouldn’t mind a visitor. And please begin making plans to visit the service center on January 14th to learn from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst themselves!



Beers, K., & Probst, B. (2012). Notice & note: Strategies for close reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Beers, K. and Bob Probst. (2014, October 26). Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Present: Talking about Texts: What Matters Most. Retrieved from

Heinemann | Notice and Note. (2014, January 1). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

Ortega, T. (2014, May 11). Notice and Note. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

English Language Learners as Writers

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Dana Ellis, Write for Texas Instructional Coach

According to school accountability data tables, students who are limited English proficient typically struggle in mastering writing skills behind their native English speaking peers. In some ways, this reality is not wholly unpredictable. After all, it takes both knowledge of a language and time experimenting with it to be able to skillfully arrange words into precise lines of reason capable of moving a reader. Though certainly not lacking in reason or passion, English Language Learners do not have the arsenal of English words at their disposal nor knowledge of American style to use on state writing assessments. To top it off, they are still students learning about life while being asked to massage meaning out of it.  Therefore, to ensure academic success in writing, special attention must be given to ELLs.

From the onset, before students memorialize their words on paper, a culture of safe writing must be established. Writing is a personal and intimate act, potentially full of the risk of social acceptance or rejection. Teachers should not skimp on time spent discussing behavioral expectations for writing workshop. Students should be thoroughly convinced that writing efforts will be met with respect and acceptance. Teachers should model their own writing for the class as well. Watching the teacher write messy drafts underscores the idea that all writers make mistakes. If all writers make mistakes, then ELLs are released from the self-imposed mandate to deliver print-ready manuscripts from the outset. All these actions work toward producing a safe, productive place in which to write.

Research from a wide variety of sources consistently supports the effectiveness of explicit writing instruction. However, classroom visits often reveal that teachers favor writing practice over writing instruction. For ELLs especially, writing must be broken down into individual goals, procedures, and features.

For example, ELLs may not realize that standard American academic writing is linear in nature. This type of writing identifies a topic directly and then consistently follows that topic through, without deviation, to a conclusion. However, the ELL may be more familiar with another culture’s academic approach. For instance, Semitic languages like Arabic favor colorful language and repetition or backtracking. Eastern languages such as Japanese explore a topic without stating a writer’s thesis. The reader is meant to mentally engage with the ideas written and draw his own conclusions. Students who transfer from a culture with a different academic writing style will be unfamiliar with the structure of an American essay. Therefore, teachers should point out text features such as a thesis, transitions, conclusions, persuasive arguments and so forth in model essays to help students conceptualize American writing styles.

A major goal for teachers of ELLs is to uncloak the thinking tools used by experienced writers as they compose texts. This means that writing processes are systematically taught through extensive modeling and metacognition while stimulating purposeful writing experiences. This cognitive approach to writing encourages students to construct meaning within a clear, easily duplicated framework. Specifically, students should build a writer’s tool kit so that they are able to approach a writing task declaratively, procedurally, and conditionally. They can determine what the writing task is, how to approach the writing, and when they have achieved the writing goal.

Following this thinking, a teacher might approach an expository essay assignment by leading the class through activities designed to build background knowledge on the topic about which students will write. Academic words used to describe the topic would be identified, explained, and verbally used by the students. The activities would be translated into concrete, language-rich classroom references (anchor charts, word banks, or desk tools). Next, the teacher would introduce a model essay on the topic, analyzing and color coding the model while using spoken thoughts to guide students through the discovery process. Emphasis would be placed on identifying audience and author’s purpose in the piece. Parts of the essay which demonstrate the focus skill would then be labeled clearly. Next, the teacher would provide some type of writing recipe, a graphic organizer, set of index cards, flipbook, or similar device that divides up the writing task into components that imitate the mentor text. Alternately, drawn boxes on notebook paper could indicate an introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, students would be asked to focus their thoughts into a specific writing task while the teacher circulates and provides feedback. Immersion into the topic in this manner would pave the way for writing success.

To summarize, helping ELLs to be effective writers in the classroom involves being aware of cultural differences; building a safe writing climate for risk taking; giving students the tools, words, and models needed for achievement; and then allowing them time to practice writing. With these practices in place, students and teachers can change history!



Barkaoui, Khaled. “Teaching Writing to Second Language Learners: Insights from Theory and Research.” TESL Reporter 40.1 (2007): 35-48. Web.

Booth, Carol O., and Robert Landa. “A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School.” Research in the Teaching of English 41 (2007): 269-303. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

“NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs).” NCTE Comprehensive News. ELL Taskforce, Apr. 2006. Web.

Radford, Colin. “The Power of Words.” Philosophy 68.265 (1993): 325-42. Scholastic. Web.

Samway, Katharine Davies. When English Language Learners Write: Connecting Research to Practice, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006. Print.

Formative Assessment in Science: Three Big Ideas

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist, Elementary Science

It’s a hot topic: Formative Assessment. Every resource will define it for you in basically the same way: formative assessment is for learning while summative assessment is of learning. But in plain language, formative assessment is an activity in which students share their developing ideas while the learning is still taking place. It’s a very active approach to learning.

So, how do we use formative assessment in science instruction? By nature, science is an active process that provides opportunities for students to discuss what they are learning as they practice what they are learning. Science instruction should provide experiences and types of thinking used by all scientists.

Consider these three Big Ideas about formative assessment in the science classroom.

 1.  A critical part of science teaching is having a dialogue, not a monologue, with students to clarify their existing ideas and to help them construct the scientifically accepted ideas (Scott, 1999). An activity to promote rich discussion is called the S.O.S Statement. The teacher presents a statement (S), asks each student to state an opinion (O) about the topic, and then support (S) his or her opinion with evidence. This activity can be used before or during a lesson to assess student attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about a topic. It can be used at points throughout a unit or lesson to assess what students are beginning to understand about the topic. And it can be used at the end of a unit to see if ideas have been influenced or changed as a result of new learning.

2.  No matter how well-planned a lesson, the need to determine student understandings through unplanned formative assessments may arise. Clock Partners is a method of creating sets of partners for spot checks of content knowledge. In this activity, each student is given a copy of a Clock Partners sheet (a picture of an analog clock face) at the beginning of a grading period, unit of study, or other desired length of time. Each student meets with classmates to write their names by a corresponding hour of the clock so that the resulting partners have each other’s names on matching hours. To pair students for discussions, announce a time slot on the clock; partners meet to discuss, clarify, or summarize content ideas. Have partners report out their key ideas as a means of assessing their understandings of the topic and to determine if re-teaching is necessary. For more information on Clock Partners, see  (This site includes a downloadable clock template.)

3.  For a quick but effective formative assessment activity, ask students to create an analogy about content. When students create metaphors and analogies, it can express a level of understanding that traditional questions and quizzes don’t address (Wormeli, 2009). A student-created analogy provides a map of how the learner links ideas together; it shows insight regarding connections from prior learning as well as highlighting misconceptions.  Periodically, present students with an analogy prompt: A ________ is like _________ because ______________. (Example: A cell’s plasma membrane is like a factory’s shipping and receiving department because it regulates everything that enters and leaves the cell.) This high level of application requires students to think deeply about content as well as to help guide instruction.

As an added benefit, while the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are still happening, the process also provides practice for the student and a self-check for understanding during the learning process.



Scott, P. (1999). An analysis of science classroom talk in terms of the authoritative and dialogic nature of the discourse. Paper presented to the 1999 NARST Annual Meeting. Boston, MA.

Wormeli, R. (2009). Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject. Stenhouse.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye…Proclamation 2015 is Now in Progress! A Look at the Social Studies Instructional Materials Adoption Process

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert, Social Studies Specialist

Duct tape seems to be our best friend right now.  The duct tape that holds the binding of that 10 year old Social Studies textbook, that is.  It seems like an eternity since our last textbook adoption for Social Studies and it is rather exciting that it is finally here.  We are embarking on something new though; this is just not a textbook adoption, but an instructional materials adoption for K-12 Social Studies.  This is a big deal for us and we must tread carefully.

In November, TEA is slated to release the SBOE approved recommended list of instructional materials by publisher.  Although this document will be a working list for school districts, districts do not have to purchase instructional materials exclusively from that list.  There is a caveat to choosing from the approved list though.  School districts will have to justify on their own how the materials align to the TEKS – the accountability will lie exclusively with the school district.  Be aware that the instructional materials submitted for the recommended list only have to meet 50% of the state standards and many questions arise from this seemingly moderate percentage. Take a look at the few inquiry questions from TEA’s Proclamation 2015 Q&A document:

Question: How it is determined that a submitted product is at least 50% compliant with the TEKS? Does a book need to reach 50% compliancy in each strand, or can the percentages vary from strand to strand, as long as they add up to 50%?

Answer: The 50% requirement refers to student expectations, not strands. A product does not need to meet 50% of the student expectations in each strand. A product needs only to meet 50% of all of the student expectations. The percentage of coverage can vary from strand to strand as long as 50% of all the student expectations are addressed.

Question:  Regarding the following: “Materials must meet at least 50% of the elements of the TEKS in both the student version and the teacher version.” Does this mean that (at least) 50% of the elements of the TEKS must be covered in the TE apart from coverage in the SE?

Answer: Materials must meet at least 50% of the TEKS in the teacher version of the instructional materials and at least 50% of the TEKS in the student version. For the purpose of determining eligibility for adoption, only those student expectations that are addressed in both the student and teacher materials will be considered.

 Since the materials available are not exclusively textbooks, school districts are left to consider factors that may not have been prevalent in the last adoption.  Considerations such as: Do we have the infrastructure to support accessing exclusive online content or electronic resources?  Will my teachers need to be trained on accessing online materials?  Do these materials meet the needs of our campuses, such as materials available in Spanish?  How do we ensure that we are investing in the right materials for Social Studies classrooms while considering our district’s future growth?

I’ve heard from school districts that are in the full swing of forming committees of teachers to examine adoption materials and have created evaluation rubrics for their teachers to employ in the review process.  I’ve also heard from school districts that have yet to start the entire development.  If your district is still in the beginning stages of navigating the materials adoption, you have until the spring to make decisions that will probably last another 10 years or possibly longer.

Below are a few tools that may be helpful to you as you begin your review process:

Making a Case for Information Literacy

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Education Specialist: Technology & Library Media Services

Information literacy. What is it? Quite simply, it is the ability to sift through an abundant quantity of information to find what you need to accurately answer a question you have. It is knowing how to refine an information search to get a smaller but more accurate selection of resources to answer your question (i.e., “puma NOT shoes”). And it is knowing when one source (National Geographic) may be more reliable than another source (Bob’s Blog About Cool Science Stuff).

So why does it matter? The information landscape of today’s digital world is changing at incredible rates. According to Gonzalez (2004), the “half-life of knowledge,” or the time between acquiring knowledge and the obsolescence of that knowledge, is shrinking. Effectiveness in today’s workforce requires knowing how to stay current on the most up-to-date information possible. “As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses” (Siemens, 2005). Knowing how to find out is rapidly replacing knowing. Information literacy is knowing how to find out.

We are seeing more and more digital devices being included in classrooms to facilitate the learning process. This creates perfect opportunities to make sure we are integrating information literacy skills into our content area instruction. Fortunately, some common threads of information literacy are already woven into the process standards of the four major content area TEKS. Consider the following TEKS examples:

 ELAR Research Strand

Students are expected to know how to locate a range of relevant sources and evaluate, synthesize, and present ideas and information.

ELAR Figure 19

Students are expected to apply deep comprehension strategies when reading such as:

establish a purpose for reading,

ask questions of the text,

make connections (text to self, text, community),

make inferences and support with text evidence,

summarize, and

monitor and adjust comprehension.

 Social Studies Process Standards

Students are expected to use a problem-solving process to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

Science Process Standards

In all fields of science, students are expected to analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student. In addition, students will evaluate the accuracy of the information related to promotional materials for products and services such as nutritional labels.

Mathematics Process Standards

Students will use a problem-solving model that incorporates analyzing given information, formulating a plan or strategy, determining a solution, justifying the solution, and evaluating the problem-solving process and the reasonableness of the solution.

In creating learning activities around these standards, teachers can incorporate opportunities for students to search the web and databases of scholarly resources to find information to support their content understanding. When Google searches produce information that is inaccurate or too broad, the opportunity exists to teach students ways to refine searches or access more scholarly sources to yield more effective results. With the return of state funded database access through teachers in Texas public schools and open enrollment charter schools will have free/low cost access to digital academic resources to support information literacy integration. Your campus librarian can be a fantastic resource to assist teachers in integrating information literacy skills into instruction, but it is important that information literacy skills integration is occurring regularly in classroom activities and not just on occasional library visits.

As the “basis for lifelong learning” (ACRL, 2000), information literacy is one of the greatest skills we can instill in our students. The increasing availability of technology in our classrooms makes integrating information literacy skills into instruction an attainable goal.



ACRL. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Retrieved from

Gonzalez, C. (2004). The role of blended learning in the world of technology. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

Oral Language Development in Early Childhood

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cathy Doggett, Education Specialist – School Ready

Broad achievement gaps exist prior to school entry. Four-year-olds from low income families have heard 45 million fewer words than their higher socioeconomic status peers, leading to a great disparity in vocabulary size. (Hart-Risley, 1995) English Language Learners have significantly lower vocabularies than their peers. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012) Researchers have found a strong correlation between the receptive vocabularies of Pre-K students and their 4th and 7th grade reading comprehension scores.  (Tabors, Snow, and Dickinson, 2001)

Twenty-six of the Pre-K Guidelines are devoted to language development. Yet time spent on language development in Pre-K does not always reflect its importance.  A recent study found that teachers introduced on average only one new vocabulary word per read aloud. (Zucker et al., 2013)

Research shows that in order for language instruction to be effective, it must be:

Intentional– New vocabulary is explicitly taught. The teacher plans experiences and lessons specifically to support language development through center activities, small group lessons, read alouds, and daily routines. (Justice, et al. 2005)  Click here to view a 2 minute video example of a small group language building lesson. (Video is from the Region 13 School Ready website –

Meaningful– The teacher introduces vocabulary that relates to a common theme which reflect students’ interests and daily experiences (e.g., “My community” rather than “polar bears”).

Rich with Opportunities for Practice– Robert Marzano concluded that “to understand the word at deeper levels… students require repeated and varied exposure, during which they revise their initial understanding….…Without [these] experiences … word knowledge remains superficial…” (Marzano, 2004) Students need multiple opportunities to practice new words over time, often in playful learning centers.

Consider all the language possibilities in a Dramatic Play Center that is transformed into a weather station: mild, warm, hot, cool, cold, freezing, light, moderate, heavy, clear, partly, mostly, low, mid, high, wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, stormy, snowy.

Story retelling is another great way to promote language development.  After reading The Mitten by Jan Brett, a teacher uses masking tape to create a mitten on the floor. She first guides children to pretend to be the characters and climb into the mitten as they retell the story. Later they retell the story independently in the Library Center.

The School Ready Pinterest page offers 14 different boards of ideas for transforming the Dramatic Play Center into different “places” that offer opportunities to use different vocabulary sets (e.g., farm, doctor’s office).



Austin ISD, Manor ISD, Del Valle ISD, Pflugerville ISD, E3 Alliance, Success by 6, and Region 13 collaborated to create a tool for administrators to use to evaluate the quality of language instruction and supports in a Pre-K classroom.  It’s available through the School Ready website.


Hart, B. &  Risley, T. (1995).  Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Dickenson, D.K., Snow, C.E., & Tabors, P.O. (2001). Homes and schools together: Supporting language and literacy development. In: D.K. Dickenson and P.O. Tabors (Ed.), Beginning literacy with language. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The nation’s report card: Vocabulary results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013 452). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Zucker, T.A., Cabell, S.Q., Justice, L.M., Pentimonti, J.M., & Kaderavek, J.N. (2013). The role of frequent, interactive prekindergarten shared reading in the longitudinal development of language and literacy skills. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1425-1439.

Marzano, R. (2004). Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Justice et al., (2005) in Baker, S.K., Kameenui, E.J., & Simmons D.C. (1995). Vocabulary Acquisition: Synthesis of the Research.  National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. University of Oregon.

Sentence Stems

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Joseph Kanke, Write for Texas Instructional Coach

Sentence stems are a writing scaffold which provide students the opportunity to effectively respond using complete sentences.  When provided this scaffold, the pressure of having to think about how to formulate a response is alleviated.

There are four key steps to making sentence stems work with your content.  First, you must create a list of sentence stems.  Be sure that the stems include academic vocabulary and/or mimic sentence structures that are difficult for students.  Next, model the process for students by showing them some of the sentence stems and where you might use them.  At this point students will need time to practice using the sentence stems by responding to questions or completing a writing assignment.  Finally, ask students to share their complete sentences and add clarification as needed.

Sentence stems can be used at any point, in any lesson, to structure meaningful conversation.  Sentence stems may be provided to help respond to a text, as peer response to a presentation, or to activate prior knowledge, teaching students how to seek clarification or to re-enforce academic vocabulary.  Refer to the chart below for some examples.