Archive for December, 2015

In This Issue (18)

Monday, December 7th, 2015


In This Issue (18)

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios in Science Education

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

One of our tasks as science teachers is to teach students about inquiry, patterns, and causality. The TEKS, across many grade levels, call for students to analyze, evaluate, make inferences, predict trends, and to critique scientific explanations. They also expect students to communicate scientific findings and explore the strengths and weaknesses of models.1 These skills do not happen by accident. We must explicitly teach students to argue and to care about their arguments in academia.

What If? Scenarios, which are a twist on a classic thought experiment, are particularly well suited to helping our students apply their scientific understanding to new situations. According to Dr. Stephens and Dr. Clement, a thought experiment is “ the act of considering an untested, concrete system designed to help evaluate a scientific concept, model, or theory — and attempting to predict aspects of the system’s behavior.”2 In creating What If? Scenarios, we start with the world as it is, then we change something about that model and ask students to predict how it will affect the many interconnecting parts of the system. In this process, students justify their understanding of the world and give teachers insight into their mental models.

In a recent workshop over 8th grade science, I presented the following What If? Scenario:

You wake up one day to find that there are no longer 24 hours in a day. Instead there are 30 hours in a day.

  • Describe the change in Earth’s motion that would have to happen to account for the longer day.
  • Draw a picture that shows this change.
  • Predict the effect of a longer day on seasons, tides, moon phases, and our calendar.

This simple prompt, projected on the wall, led to conversations beyond the expectations listed. Teachers discussed the potential effects on biodiversity and the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth upon each other. They argued about whether a slower rotation would change the length of seasons or the intensity of temperature extremes, and about how those temperature changes would affect weather and climate. Each group thought of something slightly different than the others and all contributed to a complex, analytical discussion of how the Earth moves in relationship to the Sun and the Moon.

The power of the What If? Scenario is not just in asking the questions, but also in providing students with practice in argumentation and scientific communication. Each group of three students gets a large whiteboard and a different colored marker for each team member. The basic rule in creating their board is that all students must contribute to the conversation and to the board. As students complete their board, the teacher walks around the room and helps provide just-in-time support. After all boards are complete, teams leave one representative at their board to act as docent, who is charged with explaining the group’s response to the What If? Scenario and asking for input and advice. All other students circulate around the room, listening to mini-presentations and asking questions. The goal here is to get students to help each other improve their predictions based on the science learned so far. Sentence stems such as “Can you explain why you believe_______________?” and “I disagree with _______________ and would change it because____________________.” may help guide students with limited experience in scientific discourse. Once three or four other teams have visited each board, the authors of the board regroup and revise their boards based on all of the information they learned from the gallery walk.

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios also meet the needs of many learners. Students are listening, writing, speaking, and reading about science throughout the process. Differentiation is built in because GT students will likely push beyond the scope of the prompt. There are also supports in place to help struggling learners. Through the whiteboarding process and the gallery walk, students have many opportunities to test their ideas out on each other in small, low risk environments prior to speaking out in whole group or being formally assessed over the content.

The Framework for K-12 Science Education states, “The argumentation and analysis that relate evidence and theory are also essential features of science; scientists need to be able to examine, review, and evaluate their own knowledge and ideas and critique those of others.”3 What If? Scenarios require students to use all of the science they know to respond. They also require students to think critically because we are no longer just telling them what we, as teachers, know will happen. We are asking students to tell us what they think and we are asking them to back it up with scientific principles, laws, and theories. I encourage you to play “What If?”with your students. You may find yourself surprised by how far they can take it and how much they can learn from each other.


1 “Texas Education Agency – 19 TAC Chapter 112.” 2006. 11 Nov. 2015 <>.

2 Stephens, A. (2015). The Role of Thought Experiments in Science and … – CiteSeer. Retrieved from

3 “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices …” 2014. 11 Nov. 2015 <>

Mindsets and Math: Ideas for Helping Nurture Growth

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Author: Susan Hemphill, Education Specialist: Secondary Mathematics

Are you good at math? Do you believe you can learn math? These are central questions in ongoing research into how our beliefs shape our learning. Through getting to know what our students currently believe about how they learn and teaching them learning is a continuous process, we can help students understand that achievement in math is not a set ability but something that can be changed over time.

Dweck (2008) categorizes people into two groups: those with growth mindsets and those with fixed mindsets. People with a fixed mindset believe that you are only capable of a certain, set level of knowledge. Once one reaches this level, one can learn no more. If you find your students saying I’m not good at math and no one in my family is either, this may be a sign of a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that they can learn anything given time and effort. It is no surprise that students with a growth mindset are at an advantage.

So how do we nurture the growth mindset in the classroom?

A simple way to get started is to reflect on how you give your students positive feedback. Dweck recommends focusing on the processes students use in their learning. By focusing on strategies, efforts and choices, we promote the idea that learning is a path that is different for everyone. So while it might seem positive to say, “Wow! Excellent grade on that assignment,” rephrasing it as, “Nice work on that assignment. Your efforts show me you are learning new things every day!” would remind students the learning doesn’t have an end. Grades often provide unintended fixed mindset feedback. The 100% shows all is perfect and there are no mistakes and the student gets a boost in their beliefs about their abilities, but what about when something more challenging comes along? While perfect papers can be celebrated, think about what messages you are giving the students. What if you said, “It looks like I did not challenge you in your learning!” Similarly,,the student who earns a 60 receives feedback that can seemingly indicate that they aren’t able to learn the material that was graded. By getting kids to look at less than perfect work and inspecting their errors, you are encouraging students to understand this is not a final judgement on their abilities and they can still learn and grow.

Boaler (2015) has also researched learning math and mindsets and has found many strategies to help students succeed in math — even if they believe they can’t. Her Youcubed website shares various resources for teachers, parents and students. The website features ideas and information on getting kids to embrace the challenges in math. One of the videos of a classroom shows a poster that says, “Mistakes are expected, respected and inspected!” Boaler also suggests we adjust our classroom norms to promote the growth mindset to build a classroom community of math learners.


Boaler, J. (2015). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Inspiring Students to Math Success and a Growth Mindset. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from

Be the Learner

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Laura Lee D. Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Superintendents expect principals to learn. Principals expect teachers to learn. Teachers expect students to learn. The field of education sets high standards for our children but do we hold ourselves as educators to the same standard? How often do we engage as learners outside of the classroom ourselves? We want students to ask questions, seek the answers, problem solve and ask more questions, pursue learning; but are we doing the same? Are we pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable, beyond what we know?

Whether you are a principal, an academic coach, specialist, parent, or all of the above—you are a teacher. And someone is learning from you. Watching you to see if you practice what you preach. Watching to see if you are engaging in the types of literate activities you have assigned to them. Stellar leaders, whether classroom teacher leaders or superintendent leaders, are learners. They are stellar because they spend time learning through reading, writing, and discussing their profession in order to be better at their craft. They are stellar because they are action researchers who reflect on their practice. Stellar because they adjust instruction to fit the needs of their learners.

In this day and age, there are shifts in pedagogy that require our attention. Our students have vast amounts of information at their fingertips but need us to structure the environment for collaboration, discussion, critical thinking and relating with their peers in academic discourse. Our learners are different than the learners we were. No longer is it valuable for them to answer our questions and forget theirs. Our world is different. Technology is redefining the way text is processed. So we must do what we can to stay on top of the changes, zone in on our students’ instructional needs, and adjust our instruction to maximize their learning.

With encouragement from Ghandi, I would like to empower educators with this phrase: be the learner you want your students to be. There should be an expectation that educators and students alike continue to push themselves to become the best they can be.

Time, or the lack thereof, is often used as an excuse for limited learning and growing as professionals. Professional development opportunities on a district level often tend to provide one-size fits all learning. On the other hand, each of us is aware of our individual needs as learners. We know where our understandings are solid and in which areas we require growth. We have the ability to tailor make a menu of professional learning for ourselves.  But where to go from there?  How do we get the necessary information to meet our individual needs?

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are groups of educators dedicated to supporting each other in achieving learning goals. So create yours. Ask yourself: where is an opportunity for growth in my practice? And then research, try new ideas, read, write and blog, ask others, take risks, reflect. Just as Ronnie Burt, a participant in the Twitterverse expressed, “…I realised that developing a Personal Learning Network is an empowering, transformational process, which fundamentally transforms your professional learning and teaching approach. And my experience is hardly unique…”

Just like our students, we may need a little inspiration to work harder. Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  1. Find fresh texts for your students to read and discuss based upon their interests. Share the outcomes along with the text with your colleagues. Follow this link to Tcher’s Voice, a blog from that incluldes a wonderful annotated list of sites to find such texts.
  2. Contribute to our profession through writing a blog and reading others. To discover a great way to begin blogging follow this link to Slice of Life Writing Challenge.
  3. Participate in a twitter chat. Need help to understand how to participate? Look at this Edublog site for all you need to get started: Step 3: Participate in Twitter Chats and then click here find a twitter chat relevant to you.
  4. Or, last but not least, read a trade book on literacy practice. Need a suggestion? For elementary practitioners, Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book has teachers raving about the accessible, “implement tommorow” content and format. Although Serravallo’s latest work has strategies for beginning readers, it is appropriate for all levels because of the complexity of comprehension strategies it includes. All grade level teachers can find ways to help their readers slow down and notice author’s purpose through Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

Once you have engaged in one or more of these suggestions, share what you have learned and ask others about their new understandings. Decide what you want to put into action in your practice.  Be a risk-taker and be prepared to reflect on and learn from your mistakes. And repeat. In this way, educators continue to refine and improve our craft.  So, what kind of learner are you going to be?


  1. Burt. (2014, September 23). Step 1: What is a PLN? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Not People, Places or Dates:Using Vocabulary to Instruct Social Studies

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Courtney Webster, Social Studies Specialist

When reflecting on one’s experiences in history classes while growing up, one might reminisce over lists of content terms, maps and graphs in the classroom. But how much of this material is truly remembered? Access to content has dramatically changed social studies instruction, yet students are receiving similar lists, maps and graphs — only now in a digital format. Many educators strive to build conceptual patterns for students to thread content and events together, working to allow the process of learning to become holistic and not fragmented. However, teachers often find themselves frustrated by student retention in a number of humanities courses. If one were to ask students why they grapple with such courses,  vocabulary would rank high on the list of responses.

The number of words students interact with in social studies is daunting. Marzano and Pickering (2005) results indicate, in Building Academic Vocabulary, that students in grades 6-8 could potentially encounter over 1,300 words in this subject alone during those three years, amounting to more than 50% of the academic words they will encounter while in middle school (pg. 6)1. Forming the foundation of this tremendous volume of terminology is social studies’ comprising four (or more) subjects — history, geography, civics, and economics — a composition that demonstrates the patterns of human behavior while encouraging analysis of  the causes and effects of their decisions.

Vocabulary and the broad field of considerations referred to as literacy are key contributors to the intensive demands of the 8th grade Social Studies STAAR; few campuses have yet to  realize percentage growth in scores on this assessment. The faltering performance in this regard relates to the history of Social Studies standardized testing. Literacy was not a major concern during the era of TAKS, as memory allowed for students to recall and match many of the assessment items. STAAR, however, demands much more of students. They are required to comprehend Early American History at a rigor they will not yet have experienced prior to middle school. The assessment expects students to determine not only cause and effect but also main idea, point of view, and inferences of primary and secondary sources. And several of the distractors written into each test feature two possible answers, only one of which is the best response to the question. Students must demonstrate familiarity of academic words in order to discern the best answer.

The fact that students do not successfully translate their knowledge of dates, facts, and people as demonstrated on local assessments to  the STAAR assessment baffles many  teachers. Recalling information was once the paramount indication of any star pupil, however this is no longer the rule. College and Career readiness, 21st century competencies and a global view of the world have motivated changes to the standardized test to better prepare students for the future. Factual information in social studies only skims the surface of what students should know and be able to do; therefore, vocabulary selection, instruction and application must also transform. A single adjustment to the way teachers determine and the course lexicon and apply it to the curriculum could add volumes to background knowledge development and acquisition of critical thinking skills for all students. Various approaches to literacy, including word development, provide students with options for understanding unit and course content; this shift in direction provides an understanding and  changes the environment of not only the classroom but also the processes of students’ thinking, encouraging a one to seek and understand patterns rather than recall.

While selecting vocabulary for a lesson should not be an arduous process, the density of the numerous TEKS that apply to social studies instruction make matters more interesting. Many classrooms feature word walls to beautiful effect, however they must remain active tools for learning. Select words to feature based on academic comprehension and not merely content to encourage a  richer learning experience for social studies students. Andrew Jackson, a key figure in American history, is inescapable to the course. Students must know who this president was as a general and politician. An example of effective vocabulary selection functions around arriving at this key historical figure rather than using his doctrine as a starting point. His policies give rise to the term Jacksonian Democracy; in lieu of offering it to your students outright, build from the  conceptual framework or roots using demos- or the term democracy (including various versions). This supports the learners in understanding why this term is linked to the man called ‘Old Hickory’. In refraining from the use of proper nouns (people and places) and dates we provide links to the cognizance of the content. Then students can take the knowledge that they have acquired and apply the content (people, places and dates) to skills such as chronology, summary and position based writings. Thus, students use common nouns, adjectives, and verbs to explain the pattern in the people and develop connections between character and purpose.

While there appear to be an endless array of options for instructing vocabulary, one must keep in mind that it cannot be divvied into a list of definitions, wall or text and only to remain untouched until the unit assessment. Direct instruction to word development is imperative. Robert Marzano provides a six-step approach to vocabulary instruction, whereas Kate Kinsella offers three phases. Regardless of the approach, teachers must take time to teach vocabulary as opposed to assigning vocabulary. The concise description of Dr. Kinsella’s recommendation is to introduce the word, provide verbal practice and collaborate. Both researchers articulate how explicit instruction of the word is fundamental to its understanding. Some classes assign the task of transferring by writing definitions for every word, however this activity does not constitute learning. And even though the Frayer model applied variations to the application of word acquisition with pictures and sentences, many could argue its overuse. When introducing vocabulary, appeal to pre-assessments to have students apply background knowledge or lack thereof. Consider ranking words and attempting to place such words in sentences, even if they do not fit. One could also give variances of the word through cognates or patterns of the word structure. Instruction of words does not have to be lengthy, but should be engaging. Memory of vocabulary occurs only when one fumbles through the use and misuse of the term; therefore application of the terms is necessary for comprehension. In positive classroom environments, students are privy to mistakes when answering in order for real learning to occur. Furthermore, look for opportunities when words appear in social media, songs and quotes regardless of their direct relation to your unit and encourage students to do the same.

Opportunities to read, speak and write using the terms is paramount to a student’s ability to “own” the word. Dr. Kinsella (2013) states, “clearly, there is far more to truly owning a high-utility word than the ability to parrot back a single, inflexible definition when prompted to do so on a test” (p. T5).2 Students may apply their learning to a more than just the assessment when teachers encourage them to make use of their new words. Vocabulary instruction does not cease once the unit is complete. Lesson planning must include purposeful application of words. Take the time to spiral terms into current events while providing words from previous units. Rubrics can be created to ensure words are used in writing and speaking. By providing a rubric to encourage students to use words, teachers can determine what words are mastered.  Make word walls interactive through placing them in sight for students to use during their turn and talk opportunities. Innovate word walls by placing them in student notebooks in correlation with sentence stems or using online tools to provide students with a definition and picture to support their understanding of the definition. According to Marzano and Pickering (2005), “…it is critical that [students] do not simply copy what you have said, but that they construct a definition in their own descriptions, explanations or examples” (pg. 17).1 Processing with vocabulary is much different from recalling terms and definitions.

With all the technical devices derived since the turn of the century, literacy is yet an ever growing hurdle in education. Students desperately need the instruction of vocabulary in terms of social studies to have a better understanding of the world in which we live. People, places and dates are the fruit of social studies curriculum, however academic vocabulary is at the root.


1 Marzano, R., & Pickering, D. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

2 Kinsella, K. (2013). Academic vocabulary toolkit mastering high-use words for academic achievement. Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning.

Social Emotional Skills, Something to Think About

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Erika Pozo Fiorilo, Early Childhood Specialist

What is the difference between Time-Out and a Safe Place?  Time-Out in its everyday meaning is an act of discipline to help change behavior; however, incorporating a Safe Place into the classroom environment is a way of teaching that empowers children to make decisions that are ethical, intelligent, and socially responsive. (Gartell, 2011)

Our Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines are written to help us to intentionally plan and create a classroom environment for our students to experience positive guidance in the PK classroom.  In the PK classroom, “guidance” specifically means:

  • teaching children to learn from their mistakes
  • teaching children to solve problems
  • empowering children to be capable learners and understand they are an important part of the classroom community
  • planning intentionally for interactive learning environments where children construct meaning for their actions and choices
  • celebrating differences and establishing pride in their personal and cultural identities
  • creating a healthy balance of both academic learning alongside that of social emotional development
  • upholding classroom rules consistently throughout the school year

Time-Out vs. Safe Place

Instead of Time-Out, you might consider the use of a Safe Place in your classroom.  Dr. Becky Bailey proposed the idea of a Safe Place, outlined in her book Conscious Discipline.  The Safe Place offers a positive alternative form of classroom guidance as opposed to the traditional act of Time-Out.  While Time-Out may be effective with some students, this form of classroom management doesn’t really teach the student to prevent the behavior from recurring again.  It just teaches the child that if the behavior occurs again they will be missing out on valuable instructional time or play.  A Time-Out doesn’t offer students the opportunity to learn independent social skills, while a Safe Place gives students coping strategies they can use to refer back to when a similar incident occurs again.

Below are ideas for a Safe Place you can design for your students

  • Soft stuffed animals for hugging
  • Books that highlight feelings and emotions
  • Teacher-created sentence stems
  • Items to manipulate, such as sensory bottles, to help children calm down and relieve their own emotions
  • Stress balls
  • Puzzle of feelings
  • Pictures modeling appropriate behaviors in social situations
  • Posters with visual cues to guide children through the calming process

The overall goal for creating a Safe Place is for children to independently learn how to control their own emotions and to give them the strategies they need to use when they find that they are angry, sad, nervous, disappointed, etc. Teaching children how to keep themselves in control in different social settings will help them enormously throughout their schooling and personal lives. Using a variety of strategies and tools will help students to learn about self-care, self-control, and self-discipline. The Safe Place can be the foundation for students to learn these necessary tools of self-regulation for a lifetime.


Gartell, D. 2011. Children who have serious Conflicts, Part 2: Instrumental Aggression. Young Children, 58-60.

Bailey, B. A. 2000.  Conscious Discipline: 7 Basic Skills for Brain Smart Classroom Management. Oviedo, Florida: Loving Guidance

Translanguaging – Normal Bilingual Discourse

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Ivonne Santiago, Bilingual/ESL Specialist

Translanguaging refers to the language practices of bilingual people. Cen Williams first coined the term in 1994, referring to a pedagogical practice in which students alternated between languages for the purposes of receptive or productive use. Students may have been asked to read in English and write in Welsh and vice versa. Since then, the term and its meaning have slightly changed and yet the basic concept is the same. It is a process in which two or more people, who have comfort in the languages being spoken, are able to maneuver through an intermingling of languages without alienating any one member of the group. Bilinguals, with facility, mix all languages freely according to the situation and their current needs. It also refers to pedagogical practices that use bilingualism as a resource, rather than something that is perceived as a problem.

Translanguaging is NOT “code-switching”. It is not simply changing from one code to another. Code-switching assumes that the two languages of bilinguals are separate monolingual codes that could be used without reference to each other. Instead, translanguaging differs from that notion in that it refers not simply to a shift or a shuttle between two languages, but to the speakers’ construction and the use of original and complex interrelated discursive practices that cannot be easily assigned to one or another traditional definition of language. In addition, it makes up the speakers’ complete language repertoire (Garcia & Wei 2014).

All teaching uses dialog or discourse to communicate and to develop academic use of language. The language of instruction is similar to that of the students’ home language. There may be some slight differences, but nonetheless there is some continuity. That is usually not the case for bilingual students. In order for bilinguals to develop the language, they must practice it within an academic context. Translanguaging affords the opportunity to use home language practices, different as they may be from those of school, to practice the language of school.

Translanguaging practices are particularly effective with bilingual students because their language practices are often stigmatized. Many Latino students are told that they speak “Spanglish”. This term has a negative connotation, as it implies poor command of the language. In reality, it may have more to do with normal contact with English; it’s normal discourse for bilingual students. Translanguaging permits students and teachers to acknowledge and use the full range of linguistic practices of bilinguals, and to use these practices for improved teaching and learning. Listed below are some effective translanguaging practices:

  1. Create a student-centered classroom in which they are sitting in collaborative groups and work on engaging, hands-on tasks together, which will inevitably lead to translanguaging.
  2. Provide many opportunities for students to discuss, reflect upon, negotiate, and debrief on content, in whatever language they choose, but to present something or collaborate on a product in English.
  3. Have students present in one language and provide analysis in another.
  4. Provide many opportunities for low-stakes writing in which students can use whatever language they wish (learning logs, personal dictionaries, journals, reflections). These writings can then be used as a scaffold to write something in English.
  5. Structure the class so that students are asked to do frequent formal/informal presentations where there is reason to use English. You may allow them and encourage them to use whatever language they wish for reading texts, the negotiating process and ideas and discussion.
  6. Purposefully group students so that home language support is available to those who need it. It is best to have students sitting in a small group with at least one other person who shares his/her home language.
  7. Have students read a text in their home language before reading one on the same topic in English. This strategy can be used as basic scaffolding-reading about a topic in a language in which students are more comfortable, thus enabling them to better understand a reading on the same topic in English.
  8. Encourage students to use bilingual dictionaries to ensure they are learning the “anchor concepts” in both their home language and in English.

Translanguaging is a process by which the human brain is capable of accessing two or more linguistic databases in order to formulate a tapestry of words in various languages (all bound by the rules or English grammar) in the formation of a thought (Vinson 2012). One may implement these pedagogical practices in any educational setting: bilingual, ESL, and even a monolingual class. Translanguaging can serve as a scaffold for learning English and is a powerful way for students to use their languages as an invaluable resource.


García, Ofelia, and Li Wei. Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education. Basinstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillian, 2014. Print.

Gunnarsson Tina. Translanguaging: A Review of Flexible Language Use on Students’ Learning of Additional Languages (n.d.): Translanguaging. Lund University, 2014. Web.

Vinson, Jenni, and Dr. Ophelia Garica. “The Deliverance of Bilingual Education: Translanguaging.” Translanguaging. NYU, 2012. Web. Nov. 2015.

Witt, Daria. “The Deliverance of Bilingual Education: Translanguaging.” Translanguaging Strategies. CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, Mar. 2013. Web. Nov. 2015.

Place Markers: An Effective Reading Strategy Tool for Distracted Readers

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Holly Salas, Instructional and Write for Texas Coach

Teaching children to read involves countless variables. However, strategies to teach comprehension, fluency, accuracy, etc., cannot be effective with students who are disengaged. Teachers regularly instruct students who are sleepy, ill, hungry, disinterested, or distracted. Often, a student’s distractibility is the result of a disability. Whatever the reason for distractibility, teachers must accommodate a student’s attention to instruction in order for quality reading development to occur. Teachers often have difficulty getting students to follow along while reading silently, as well as while listening to another reader. “The child’s difficulty in making left-to-right tracking movements while reading…disrupts sequencing of letters and syllables in words…and the inability to keep place also shows up when someone else is reading” resulting in reversal, rotations, inversions, omissions, substitutions, additions, etc. (“Visual-Spatial Dyslexia,” p.8 (n.d.)).

Teacher-monitoring for substantive comprehension breakdowns such as text inconsistencies, sentence scrambling, and misunderstanding with background information is difficult enough without the teacher’s ability to first monitor if the student is even attending to the text in the first place. For an already distracted student, the practice of interrupting reading for during reading strategies can further displace students from the meaning of text and impose a time-limit pressure that breaks down comprehension and enjoyment. “Heavy time pressure should not be imposed to individuals if they are to accurately complete important reading tasks” (Cauchard, Cane, & Weger, 2012). Metacognitive reading tasks are most effective when a student’s engagement with text is facilitated even while reading is stopped.

Before implementing other reading strategies, teachers need something that will help students focus. Only then will teachers be able to facilitate learning and assess ability. The place marker is a simple, minimal-preparation strategy with multiple implications that not only enables educators to modify and accommodate for students, and even assess the students’ task-compliance, but also provides opportunities for higher-level instructional strategies that scaffold students from decoding to comprehension to complex analyses. Although educators may purchase from a ubiquitous selection of marketed reading strategies and tools for engagement, the place marker requires no cost and almost no preparation. And because some students have difficulty transferring multiple reading strategies to settings outside of the classroom, establishing a procedure for the use of place markers allows for year-long instruction and may even facilitate independent reading for the student following graduation.

There is a seemingly limitless body of literature surrounding metacognitive monitoring, especially among distracted readers. From Mackey’s small-scale, easy-to-follow qualitative study (1991) that draws conclusions following Before, During, and After reading strategies, while accounting for context, content, and time; to Pan, Tsai, and Chu’s close look at fine motor skills within children with autism, children with ADHD (inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/ impulsive, and combined), and children without disabilities (2009), it is within a teacher’s own practice that she is best able to collect data for an isolated, a single reading strategy and its implications for large-scale conclusions.

Though conducted in the United Kingdom, the focus of Gillies and Robinson’s research on art-based strategies is particularly noteworthy (2012), because of its acknowledgment of the creativity within reading comprehension and beyond. Like the arts, reading and writing involve a human’s knowledge prior to the academic literary task, and that knowledge endures long after the academic setting, if not for the rest of the reader’s lifetime.

During a 2014 professional development research project at a Texas high school, teachers were asked to monitor the use of place markers as a during-reading strategy for a three-month period. Following data collection, teachers reported that 98% of students were less distracted than without the use of the place marker and that 98% of students transitioned more successfully back to reading after reading had been interrupted. The procedure:

  • enables distracted students to attend to the task.
  • creates student accountability.
  • facilitates before-, during-, and after-reading strategies.
  • enables students to self-monitor.
  • enables students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress.
  • enables the educator to monitor and track student compliance.

How it works:

  • Provide each student one place marker, three sticky notes, and an intentionally chunked or excerpted copy of a text, for multiple readings.
  • Instruct students to put a place marker under the title and read along until the teacher says, “Stop.”
  • Remind students that it’s important that the place marker follow along with the reader’s voice.
  • When all students have place markers ready, begin reading aloud the first chunk or excerpt of text.
  • After students complete the first section of text, say, “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Instruct students to write a brief summary or draw a picture of what was just read and give the summary or picture a one-word title or caption. Provide two minutes. Model and monitor.
  • Return to the text and read the next text excerpt. Say “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Continue through the end of the text, spiraling into independent reading, with teacher-directed stops. The goal is for students to eventually monitor their own reading by stopping at text points he or she deems significant.
  • Follow activity with Think-Pair-Share activity.

IMPORTANT: While students are writing, use teacher moves to check for understanding and collect data.

Before testing out the place marker theory with your own distracted students, reflect on your current practices:

  • What strategies are currently in place for enabling distracted students to attend to the task?
  • What strategies are currently in place to create student accountability?
  • What strategies are currently in place to enable the teacher to monitor and track student compliance and understanding?
  • How effective is each strategy in aiding students to visually attend to the text?
  • What strategies are currently in place to facilitate before-, during-, and after-reading textual interactions?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to self-monitor?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress?

Before setting up the procedure with students, glean some information on their attitudes about their own reading. Consider asking the following questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a good reader, a fair reader, or a poor reader (circle one)? Why?
  • When do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • When do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Why do you read?
  • Does reading make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable (circle one)? Why?

Collecting Data:

While monitoring, consider using a qualitative data analysis protocol such as the following:

  • Student is more, less, or just as distracted from text, using the place marker, as he/ she normally is during reading. Explain (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…?):
  • During the Stop-and-Jot activity, student transitions to task and then returns to text more quickly than without the use of place markers, at the same rate of speed as when reading without the use of place markers, or more slowly or disjointed than when reading without the use of place markers. How do you know?

The following Observation checklist may also assist in your data collection.

Student: __________________________________ Date ______

Please place a check in the box (more, just as, or less) that corresponds to the blank within each box to the left. Use the space to jot down observations (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…):

During reading, the student is __________ distracted than without the use of a place marker.
After Stop-and-Jots, the student transitions back to text  _________ quickly than without the use of a place marker.
The teacher-participant is _____________ successful in student reading compliance than without the use of a place marker.


1 Sponge Activity Before Reading Essential Question Quick WriteExamples:

“What happens to a person who always feels alone, even with those closest to him/ her?”

“Why do fractions matter in daily life”

“Why should we understand how organisms, places, and ideas have changed over time?”

“How do climate and natural resources affect the way people live and work?”

5 Min.
2 Set Induction Anticipation Guide 3 Min.
3 Pre-assessment of student understanding of the lesson concept/process/skill K-W-L:“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.
4 Large Group Instruction Teacher reads aloud the first paragraph/ excerpt. Teacher models use of the place marker and where to put it. When she/he says “Stop,” the teacher also models summary or picture with one-word caption. Teacher monitors. 10 Min.+ 1 min. feedback
5 Independent or Group Work Students read silently, using place marker. Teacher says Stop. Students complete a Stop-and-Jot with one-word caption. Teacher models and monitors. 10 Min.
7 Evaluation –Post assessment of concept/ process/ skill K-W-L“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.


Cauchard, F., Cane, J., & Weger, U. Influence of background speech and music in      interrupted reading: an eye- tracking study. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl.       Cognit. Psychol. 26: 381–390 (2012).

Gillies, V, & Robinson, G. (2012). Developing creative research methods with challenging  pupils. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 15 (2).

Mackey, M. (1991). The association between reading strategies and reading histories of          adolescents: a qualitative study. University of Alberta (Canada): ProQuest. UMI          Dissertations Publishing.

Pan, C., Tsai, C., and Chu, C. (2009). Fundamental movement skills in children     diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity          disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 39 (12), 1694-1705.          Visual-Spatial Dyslexia (n.d.). In A 2 Z of Brain, Mind and Learning. Retrieved     February 9, 2014, from