Archive for the ‘Issue 17’ Category

In This Issue (17)

Friday, September 25th, 2015


In This Issue (17)

What Makes Science Science?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb: Education Specialistv – Elementary Science

What does science instruction look like on your elementary campus? Does it occur every day, in every grade level, or is it something that teachers attend to when they have time? Does the entire staff and student body agree on what makes science science?

I once asked a class of third graders at the beginning of the school year to define science. I will never forget the response from Kara, an earnest 8-year old who always thought through her answers carefully. “I guess it’s the opposite of social studies,” she said.

And that’s what some of our students believe. It’s a subject that is addressed when it’s convenient instead of being recognized as a required and important part of our curriculum. School administrators must be advocates for science, especially in the elementary grades, by supporting and monitoring an elementary science program that reflects state standards.

Our science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are designed so that students in the primary grades receive concrete, hands-on, tactile experiences. By Grade 3, science content shifts to the abstract. If students don’t receive their initial science instruction as tangible explorations of ideas in grades K-2, they miss building necessary background for understanding more abstract ideas in the later grades.

For students, science is a way of discovering what’s in the world and how things work. Young scientists are motivated to see or figure out something that is new to them. Science helps them make sense of the world. Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge of our world, and it continually leads to new questions for future investigation.

To encourage students to explore our world, the Texas Education Agency has suggested time for classroom and outdoor investigations as follows:

  • In grades K-1, at least 80% of instructional time.
  • In grades 2-3, at least 60% of instructional time.
  • In grades 4-5, at least 50% of instructional time.
  • In grades 6-8, at least 40% of instructional time.

For all courses that receive science credit in grades 9-12, at least 40% of instructional time.

In addition, the 2010 science TEKS reference three types of investigations for students of grades K-12.

  • Descriptive investigations include questions but no hypothesis. Observations are recorded, but students do not make comparisons or manipulate variables. Examples include finding the mass of a rock, observing and describing animal behavior or weather patterns, and examining an electrical circuit.


  • Comparative investigations involve collecting data on different organisms, objects, or events, or collecting data under different conditions to make a comparison. Examples include observing the moon’s appearance throughout the month, recording the changes in plant life during the school year, or comparing different types of leaves.


  • Experimental investigations involve designing a fair test. Students identify controlled factors and measure the variables in an effort to gather evidence to support or not support a causal relationship.

(You can view TEA’s entire Laboratory and Field Investigations document: Laboratory and Field Investigations – FAQ, August 2010 )

So what makes science science? It’s providing time each day, in each grade, for students to think like scientists. It’s fostering a sense of curiosity and wonder. It’s providing opportunities to explore the natural world. It’s about students observing, performing experiments, completing investigations, and asking questions. And it’s much more than being just the opposite of social studies.


How Well Did Our Math Resources Align to Our TEKS?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Virginia Keasler, Math Education Specialist & Susan Hemphill, Math Education Specialist

K-8 mathematics teachers have entered their second year with the new math TEKS while high school teachers are adopting updated math TEKS this year, with the possibility of new resources on the horizon.

What are some things to consider in matching up resources with the new TEKS?

In comparing the TEKS with our resources we should keep in mind exactly what the student expectation is asking. One way to do this is to break the student expectation into key concepts that we know we will need to deliver. Your district may have already broken down the SEs into key concepts for you. If not be sure to pay close attention to all the details in the SE. Keep in mind when lesson planning that these are the key concepts that need to be taught.

The next step is to look at your resources and note whether it covers all, some, or more of the key concepts than expected. Also check the depth and complexity of what is included in the resource. For example, if your TEKS have students using an operation to solve a problem, your resource should not just have them identify what operation is used to solve that problem. Check to make sure the verb of your SE matches the level in your resource.

The following SE is used as a model here. Again, you may not have time to formally write these down but keep in mind that all of these concepts must be included in your lesson planning.

4.2E: Represent decimals, including tenths and hundredths, using concrete and visual models and money.o Represent decimals to the tenths using concrete models.

o Represent decimals to the tenths using visual models.

o Represent decimals to the tenths using money.

o Represent decimals to the hundredths using concrete models.

o Represent decimals to the hundredths using visual models.

o Represent decimals to the hundredths using money.

Process StandardsAs you review your resources, consider evaluating your process standards, the released STAAR items from 2015, and your models and tools used to deliver the TEKS.

All math courses have the same process standards now from K-12. Our state assessments dual code process standards and content standards with each item. Did your resource take this factor into account? Do you need to add more to make it align?

Released STAAR Items from 2015

Released items from TEA are examples of dual-coded problems with process and content standards. It is important to refer to the released items as you review your resource. Released STAAR Items for 2015 Link 


In reading your TEKS, are all the models and the tools stated included in the resource and do they provide enough experiences for your students to have mastery? Our example above has concrete and visual models, so both must be included for this resource to be fully aligned.

We hope you will use some of these ideas this year as you acquire new resources.  Now it’s your turn….go forth and align!

Explicitly Teaching Literacy Cognitive Processes

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

During a week in August, Laura Lee Stroud and I were tucked away in a conference room at the service center. Our mission: to analyze the 2015 STAAR released tests. Armed with multiple highlighters, TEA item analysis tables, copies of the TEKS vertical alignment, and a gallon of coffee, we read the passages quietly. We laughed aloud at times, frowned when Pearson-written passages bored us, and labored over the multiple choice questions. We found that some questions tripped us up. Only while answering questions together as a team did we make discoveries — we hadn’t correctly comprehended a section of text (the horror!) or we had missed a telling detail that slanted the theme of a passage in a surprising way. We discussed. We reread to one another. We talked out different theories of the text, of the answer choices. We discussed what all this meant for the students. Our conversation during these days of study illuminated what authentic literacy should look like for our students. 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, p. 28) is a subject we have discussed in a previous Insight Article. Nachowitz and Brumer discuss “knowledge-building learning” and its “emphasis on progressive discourse, the kind commonly associated with scientific communities where knowledge is advanced as theories, facts are scrutinized and tested, and the body of knowledge is added to by a community of participants” (Teaching the Talk, Not the Text, 2014, p. 16).

How do we manage to get students to not only engage in dialogic talk, but also consciously move their understanding of text deeper and wider through progressive discourse?

Why We Need to Explicitly Teach Cognitive Processes

Ten years ago, Spencer Kagan argued that given the information explosion of online media, “memorizing one new fact is of little value compared to the ability to understand, analyze, organize, apply, evaluate, and create new information” (2005). Thinking passed STAAR and its all-importance in the here and now—students will need the skills to wade through a vast pool of information, to silence the noise around any given issue, to comprehend the big ideas, to determine other’s’ agendas, and to synthesize their own meaning.

For more teachers, the importance of teaching a specific list of novels and texts has become less important than teaching thinking skills. Indeed, with all that is expected of us to add value to students’ academic ability, how do we ensure that our instructional time is used to its utmost advantage? Teaching students to think about their reading is a sound investment in that time.

In fact, teaching the thinking and the talking will reach more students than assigning a list of classics will.  Students need to read all manner of texts, and they need explicit instruction in “how to talk about and think about ideas, how to develop and refine ideas, and how to extend and constructively critique the ideas of fellow students” because this “will lead to deeper understanding” (Nachowitz & Brumer, 2014).  Building classrooms that value thinking, community and talk “recognizes that the contexts within which literacy is used and learned lead to particular ways of thinking and doing—that culture (including the culture of the classroom), language, and cognition are inextricably intertwined.” (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran, 2003, p. 688). We cannot afford to assign reading without regarding talk and thinking as core values in our classroom. Thinking and talking will allow all students the opportunity to read text and understand deeply.

What Deep Understanding of Text Looks and Feels Like

Hierarchal levels of thinking found in Bloom’s Taxonomy and Costa’s levels of thinking do not correspond with truly understanding text—as in that they assume a one-way street from “lower-level” thinking skills in reading  to “higher-level” thinking skills in reading. In fact, to understand text, one is constantly upshifting but also downshifting, going from comprehension, to inference, to comprehension, to noticing a stylistic choice (analysis), back down to comprehension, to noticing that the earlier stylistic choice is recurring, and then inferring author’s purpose based on this noticing.

Strong readers expertly employ upshifting and downshifting in thinking without realizing it. Reading an article on my phone from the Huffington Post, rereading a novel, reading my kids’ picture books, I am constantly upshifting and downshifting. And this is precisely the type of activity we’ve noticed students need to perform well in STAAR, based on our analysis of 2015 released tests. We found not only that students always needed a comprehensive understanding of a section of text, but often needed a thematic understanding as well in order to select the correct answer choice. Students needed to employ many levels of thinking to correctly answer many of the questions, and when we took the test ourselves, we realized that in no way were the cognitive processes we employed a straight shot from lower-level thinking to higher-level thinking. We were constantly upshifting and downshifting.

Take this item from the 2015 STAAR English II Released test.


To answer this question correctly and eliminate other answer choices, students would have to:

  1. Comprehend that this poem is about the speaker’s reaction to a fox’s appearance
  2. Determine the connotation of the word “ordinary”
  3. Infer that the fox’s appearance was unexpected
  4. Determine a thematic meaning: unexpected events’ capacity for teaching individuals lessons

We probably missed a few. But one can see that this understanding might not progress in a linear fashion for a reader.

Here’s another example from the 2015 STAAR Grade 4 Released Reading test:


We noticed that students would need to:

  1. Infer a joking relationship between Jen and Joey
  2. Hold on to comprehension from the beginning of the story
  3. Comprehend that fear of showing her skin ultimately was not the motivation for her actions

Students must be skilled at maneuvering up and down a taxonomy of literacy thinking to correctly answer questions at every grade level. We found that student performance on these kinds of questions ranged from an extremely low 50 to 70 percent correct. Our region- and state-wide data, as well as our work in districts, lead us to believe that teaching of cognitive processes would benefit students.

How Do We Teach Students Cognitive Processes?

Explicit Instruction

Borrowing heavily from Archer and Hughes’ seminal work on explicit instruction, our manner for teaching cognitive processes should:

  • Name and sequence skills logically. Choose a methodology (several explained below) and decide which order would make most sense for your learners.
  • Break down skills one at a time. For example, analysis is a tough skill. First show students how to notice patterns in author’s craft. Then teach a process for interpreting meaning of those patterns.
  • Provide step-by-step demonstration. Or model, model, model. Re-read a text to demonstrate a new cognitive process. Use the beginning of the text your students’ will read in small groups later. Find some text, read it “cold” and conduct Think Alouds to make these processes visible for a student. Dr. Thea Woodruff, of the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, asserted at this summer’s Write for Texas conference—if kids are not doing the work, it’s likely because we haven’t modeled it enough (2015). Show them!
  • Provide guidance and supported practice. Students should have the benefit of a teacher model, and then they should draw support from their peers in guided practice. We discuss dialogic talk and progressive discourse below. Students should also have opportunities for independent practice, within the same text, or a text of their own choosing. (Archer & Hughes, 2011)

Choose a Methodology for Naming Skills

Kagan espouses a practice of embedding thinking skills into any lesson by using instructional strategies that engage those skills. So as demonstrated in many of our workshops, students might read a text and then generate an analogy about the content, and therefore practice the skill of synthesizing new text information with their current schema. In his determination, the thinking skill becomes part of every lesson without special preparation or planning, especially when teachers conscientiously choose the same strategies over and over again (Kagan, 2005).

However, in our work, we have found that students do not always successfully and independently employ the thinking skill when academic work asks them to do so. Thinking skills are not learned by osmosis of practicing a strategy over and over again but through helpful scaffolds of the classroom and help of classmates. Without explicit instruction of naming the skill, modeling the skill, and debriefing about guided and independent practice, students were merely completing an activity. Perhaps the activity of creating an analogy involves high levels of cognition, but the student was merely jumping through hoops, as opposed to owning a cognitive process.

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst advocate providing specific signposts to read for and accompanying prompts that encourage thinking about the text and making inferences, prediction, analyzing theme. This approach goes beyond merely completing a strategy — it supports students in the metacognition of getting to deeper understanding of text independently and through dialogic talk. So as opposed to teaching the skill of “Prediction,” students are taught to be on the lookout for signposts in literature like “Contrasts and Contradictions,” which then provide a stimulus for making a prediction. They discuss how noticing signposts seems more natural than consciously making an effort to predict, infer, or make thematic meaning, classic cognitive processes of reading.

Beers and Probst’s process calls for the explicit instruction of thinking. Teachers have been inspired by how well signposts work for reading literature in the classroom and excitedly await the forthcoming book on reading nonfiction with new nonfiction signposts.

Levels of Meaning

We offer here another structure for teaching thinking, ‘Levels of Meaning,’ inspired by specific skills we found assessed on the STAAR test. We have added questions and examples from the popular movie Finding Nemo to improve accessibility as an anchor chart.

To teach the Levels of Meaning, we advocate the methods Nachowtiz and Brumer used in their study of progressive discourse: teachers should “model and scaffold students through guided collaborative and individual practice in how to initiate something they wanted to talk about, how to extend and develop an idea through talk, how to build on other students’ contributions, how to challenge other students through constructive talk, and how to put ideas together into a “big idea” understanding (2014, p. 16).

For example, we might first use a powerful photograph, such as those found in this blog post that chronicles photographs from May 1963, Birmingham, Alabama. We discuss the use of the photo captioned “Alabama Fire Department Aims High-Pressure Water Hoses at Civil Rights Demonstrators.”

A teacher might teach and model creating meaning on one level of meaning at a time to students.

  1. Model reading the title or caption of the photograph, and asking herself, what do I already know? This was during the Civil Rights Movements, when black citizens fought for their rights.
  2. Model “reading” or noticing people, items, and actions captured in the photograph. Model discerning meaning from what is “right there” in the photograph, by answering the question, what is happening? I see young people against a wall, being shot with water from what looks like a high-pressure hose. There are three people; they are all African American; their backs are turned toward the water that is hitting them)

Following Archer and Hughes’ suggestions of breaking down complex skills, a teacher might end this first mini-lesson and allow students to practice (review) the first two skills in small groups. Students would use different photographs to progress through the first level of meaning. Sentence stems used to begin and extend talk, such as “I noticed . . . ,” “I don’t understand . . .,” “I have a different idea . . .,” “I agree with you because  . . .” help students learn how to engage in progressive discourse (Nachowitz & Brumer, 2014, p. 21).

The next day, the teacher might:

  1. Model interpreting meaning by using text and schema to infer more meaning. She would ask, given what I know about the Civil Rights movements, what does the author want me to understand about the people, the actions in this photograph? The fact that the people have their backs turned away from the water tells me they are trying to protect themselves. That water must hurt and be very powerful. The photographer wants me to know that this must have been a scary experience.
  2. Model interpreting analytical meaning by looking at the parts of the photograph and asking, how does the author use the craft of photography to add meaning? The young people are smack in the middle of the photograph. The author wants us to focus on their experience. Also, you can see their left arms in the photo are almost aligned in a defensive block to the water. I wonder if the photographer chose this particular shot because of that symmetry, to show how the people were suffering together. For a purpose.

More time for modeling and practice would certainly be warranted for the analytical skills.

  1. Model finding thematic meaning by connecting the photograph to the world and asking, what are the big ideas the author wants all of us to understand? Two things come to mind. The photographer is documenting inhumane treatment of humans. He wanted to show the world how African Americans were treated. Another thing, the people in the photograph experienced something horrible. Perhaps the theme is: We are obligated to bear witness when injustice is inflicted on others. And of course, I think he would have wanted his audience to act and help African Americans.

Teachers might then move onto modeling using short mentor texts. Students could continue to practice the skills in small groups and independently using other photographs, short videos, and eventually longer and more complex texts.

Regardless of whether teachers choose to use Beers and Probst’s signposts, Levels of Meaning, or other methodologies, naming and explicitly teaching cognitive processes will promote deeper understanding of text.

Providing Opportunities for Guided Practice: Dialogic Talk and Progressive Discourse

Nachowitz and Bumer describe another method for encouraging progressive discourse, “chalk talk”—silent written conversations, set within a specific time frame, that require all students to go the board and write what want to say about the text. Thereafter, students may then extend, comment on, question, or build upon other students’ comments (2014, p. 16). Students draw arrows, plus signs, and other symbols to show their convergent, divergent, and progressive thinking.

A model of reading instruction called Collaborative Strategic Reading is a strategy developed by the Meadow’s Center that restructures the learning environment so that all students, no matter what their ability-level, contribute unique ideas to the literacy conversation. (Boardman, Moore, & Scornavacco, 2015). We have taken this model’s plan for strategic reading and reformulated it, using the Levels of Meaning from above.

Collaborative Strategic Reading

A plan like Collaborative Strategic Reading assumes that multiple reads of a text build layers of understanding. As Judith Langer found, “rather than say simply that students ‘comprehended’ or ‘did not comprehend’ what they were reading or writing about . . . students’ envisionment of a text at any time was a mixture of understandings, questions, hypotheses, and connections to previous knowledge and experiences. She found that the envisionment changed and evolved with further reading, writing, discussion, or reflection” (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran, 2003, pp. 690-691).

If we teach cognitive skills explicitly by providing names for them, modeling the use of them, and providing guided and independent practice, we teach students to honor their changing “envisionment.” We also provide tools for understanding on students’ own terms.  Instruction becomes less about a handful of classroom-specific strategies (hashtag summaries; before/after characterization; plotting beginning, middle, and end of a story). It’s the thinking behind those strategies that is the most important content for students to instill. Let’s teach the thinking and the talking.


Applebee, A., Langer, J., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-Based Approaches to Developing Understanding: Classroom Instruction and Student Performance in Middle and High School English. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 685-730.

Archer, A., & Hughes, C. (2011). Explicit instruction; Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

Beers, K., & Probst, B. (2012). Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Boardman, A. G., Moore, B. A., & Scornavacco, K. R. (2015). Disrupting the “Norm” with Collaborative Strategic Reading. English Journal, 105(1), 48-54.

Hester, J. (2014).  Dialogic Talk and Enriching Our Students’ Reading Metacognition and Close Reading: The Need to Teach Metacognition. Insight: A newsletter for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Retrieved from

Kagan, S. (2005, Fall). Rethinking Thinking: Does Bloom’s Taxonomy Align with Brain Science? Retrieved from Kagan Online Magazine:

Nachowitz, M., & Brumer, N. (2014, September). Teaching the Talk, Not the Text. Voices from the Middle, 22(1).

Laura, P. (2012, February 23). Some kind of sign: Charles Moore: Civil Rights Photographer. Retrieved September 17, 2015, from

Woodruff, T. (2015).Using Effective Writing Instruction to Support Response to Intervention. Write for Texas Summer Conference. Austin: Texas Education Agency.

Supporting the Young English Language Learner

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Education Specialist – School Ready

As a former pre-K teacher I often struggled with meeting the needs of my English Language Learners (ELLs), mainly because I didn’t completely understand the resources provided to me. Over time, I came to the realization that while the curriculum and lesson planning that were provided offered guidance on what to teach and when to teach it, they very rarely offered practical methods for how to teach it, which is exactly what the job of curriculum/ lesson mapping and planning is supposed to do. More specifically, I wanted to teach in a way that allowed me to maximize instructional time to meet the needs of my students’ oral language development in their native language as well as provide relevant and purposeful learning opportunities that supported and fostered my students’ English language development. I decided that I would go back to basics and build upon the relationships already being successfully formed in our classroom community.  

As I reflected, I began to understand that planning the act of having conversations with students was going to be the successful foundation that both the student and I would need to establish risk taking behaviors.  By being very deliberate in my planning I could create a love of learning that would be experienced all year long in both their native language as well as their new language of English as well.

So with the end of school year goals in mind, I began to intentionally plan backward to find ways that would support my students’ oral language development and allow for students to express and communicate their own personal experiences in multiple of ways that included listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research has shown that students who are supported in both their native home languages (L1) and English (L2) have demonstrated increased cognitive, linguistic, and social emotional advantages (Bialystock 2008; Kuhl 2009)

Planning support for the young ELL should include:

  • Variety – I learned that students were more interested in learning a new language when the conversations occurred in different parts of the classroom, not always limiting those dialogues to one area of the classroom. By utilizing a variety of literature in different parts of the classroom like songs, chants and rhymes, students enthusiastically learn and remember new vocabulary words, classroom expectations and concepts.
  • Visual reinforcements – By adding additional environmental supports like photos and rubrics, students receive a message of which behaviors, appropriate conversations and interactions were expected of them.
  • Let them know why – When I planned for engaging in intentional and purposeful play with my students during center time, students were more likely to use new vocabulary words, phrases and sentence stems because they understood the purposes of instructional materials placed in centers.
  • Peer-to-peer learning – Actively encouraging cooperative play and planning instructional work for students to complete in pairs or triads makes students feel more comfortable with taking risks and practicing their listening and speaking skills with one another. They also learn that their classmates are another resource in helping them to learn material being taught as well as a source of problem solving support.
  • Integrate the home culture – By adding labeling and environmental print to the classroom environment, I was able to communicate to parents and students that I was honoring not only their home language but the idea that one day they were going to be bicultural, bilingual and most importantly bi-literate—able to successfully read, speak and write in both languages.


Bialystok, E. (2008). Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism Across the Lifespan. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), BUCLD 32: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Magruder, E., Hayslip, W., Espinosa, L., & Matera, C. (2013, March 1). Many Languages, One Teacher: Supporting Language and Literacy Development for Dual Language Learners. Young Children, 8-12.

Kuhl, P. (2009). Early Language Acquisition: Neural Substrates and Theoretical Models. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (4th ed., pp. 837-854). Cambridge, MA: M.S. Gazzaniga.


Why We Filter Out: Understanding the Affective Filter

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Seth Herrington, Bilingual/ESL Education Specialist

Educators spend countless hours developing engaging and interactive lessons for students. They pour over curriculum, participate in PLC’s, refine lesson plans through peer-review, and scour the internet for resources that will make the content delivery comprehensible for their students. Despite the deep level of care taken to plan a lesson, there are external factors that can hijack the learning process, rendering the countless hours of preparation useless. This is a phenomenon experienced by all learners and isn’t confined to education. It’s the basketball player that performs well during practice but freezes on the free-throw line under pressure. The business executive who fits the job description for an exciting new position perfectly, but doesn’t interview well due to social anxiety. The English Language Learner who sees themselves as intellectually inferior as a result of repeated failures in mastering academic content in English.

This imaginary barrier is called the Affective Filter. It’s a term developed by Stephen Krashen as part of his “Affective Filter Hypothesis” (Krashen, 1982). According to Krashen, there are three main sources of a raised affective filter.

  • Motivation: Learners who are highly motivated tend to acquire new content more quickly. When it comes to English Language Learners (ELLs), fostering motivation to acquire English is at times a difficult task, especially when a lack of motivation stems from an incongruence in the cause/effect relationship between content mastery and personal success.
  • Self-Confidence: Damaged self-confidence comes almost exclusively from repeated failures in mastering the English language for ELLs or from damaging experiences in attempting to master English. 
  • Anxiety: Stemming from circumstances inside the classroom or out, anxiety has an adverse effect on the acquisition of content. Students suffering from anxiety in the classroom experience triggers that render them emotionally hijacked and unable to truly process information presented, let alone demonstrate their comprehension of previously mastered material.

Students can suffer from an affective filter coming from more than one of the above sources. For example, an ELL with damaged self-confidence can also suffer from high levels of performance anxiety. Regardless of the source, a raised affective filter can diminish comprehensible input to the extent of eliminating it altogether.

Minimizing the Affective Filter

Maintaining a friendly, comfortable environment is ultimately the single most effective way to minimize the prevalence of a raised affective filter in ELLs. However, there are a number of additional practices that can help educators ensure that the lessons, units, and/or activities they plan for students result in content and language acquisition. Here are a few:

  • Elicit student performance only at the appropriate level.
  • Avoid public error correction and focus on the message being communicated rather than correct grammar.
  • Increase wait time and include “think time” for ELLs who are devoting an extraordinary amount of cognitive capacity to translating material delivered from English to their native language.
  • Allow for ample rehearsal time before student performance.

By implementing these and other strategies, educators can foster an environment where their students can easily acquire language and content — making the countless hours spent in planning instruction worth the effort.

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon Press.

STEM Essential Elements to STEMify the Classroom

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Dr. Grant Kessler,  STEM Specialist – Curriculum & Instruction

An important goal for all students — regardless of interest in focused STEM content — is STEM literacy. There is an increasingly technical aspect to almost everything in which we engage, both at work and in our daily lives; students will need STEM literacy to be successful in their personal and professional futures. Therefore, STEM literacy should be emphasized across all grade levels and subject areas.

What does this means for education? As educators, we must prepare our students to thrive in a STEM-based world by integrating STEM into our work whenever possible. Students must learn how to appropriately utilize the Internet, demonstrate the confidence to learn new technologies, be mathematically functional and able to apply scientifically-sound thinking, and be capable and self-sufficient problem-solvers.

Well-designed learning experiences encourage students to quickly see the importance and applicability of STEM; students and educators should view the STEM components as working in tandem. A STEM-ified lesson is not just science or technology or engineering or math; it includes notions of science and technology and engineering and math. Importantly, not every component has to be in every lesson. Instead a blending of the four components, which allow students to make real-world connections, is what works well in practice.

STEM education should provide an engaging and problem-driven process for students to learn. This approach is effective and transferable across all content areas for all students. Schools can improve and encourage STEM literacy in a number of ways, from a single classroom to a district-wide initiative. The key element of STEM learning is the integration of the four core subjects into larger, cross-disciplinary projects designed for students to solve problems and gain real world insights. We seek to avoid imparting fragmented pieces of knowledge with no application.

Implementing STEM into the classroom begins with organizing and delivering learning experiences in such a way that students understand the connections within and between content areas, see relevance in their learning, and build capacity through authentic utilization of 21st century and content skills. The STEM Essentials provide the platform from which teachers can STEMify student learning while using a variety of delivery approaches.


By implementing STEM best practices, educators can provide meaningful real-world learning experiences that go beyond the classroom and become transferable skills that are necessary for students to be competitive in the global economy. Explore the STEM Essentials & Their Key Components document and consider how they can be used to align current instruction with the end goal of STEMifying instruction.

Transformation Central Texas STEM Center will publish a straightforward and practical process for educators to STEMify learning for all students in the book, “A Blueprint for Building a STEM Program: Integrate, Innovate, Inspire.” For more information visit This resource is highly recommended for educators of all content areas, pre-K through grade 12.

For resources, strategic planning and implementation support, contact Grant Kessler ( at Region 13.

The Global Read Aloud: Connecting Through a Love of Literature

Friday, September 25th, 2015

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

The Global Read Aloud is a project started by a Wisconsin teacher looking to create connections between her students and other students around the world through the love of literature and the power of a really good book. Over the past 5 years the Global Read Aloud (GRA) has grown from a small project that included a few hundred students and one book to an initiative that impacts over 500,000 students and includes an author study component and age specific title selections.

To participate a teacher would sign up via the Global Read Aloud website. The teacher chooses which title to read to his/her students, and can also choose a method to connect with other teachers/classrooms reading the same book. Teachers can connect via Edmodo, Facebook, and Twitter. Through these connections, teachers can set up video conferencing sessions between classes via Skype or Google Hangouts, or they may choose to post student work on the Global Read Aloud wiki.

This year’s Global Read Aloud officially runs from October 6, 2015 to November 16, 2015. There will be a schedule posted on the Global Read Aloud wiki to help teachers keep pace with the 6 week project and to prevent any unintentional spoilers. Teachers can read to their class daily during each week, or designate one day during each of the 6 weeks as a GRA day. While reading, teachers can incorporate higher level reading comprehension skills by asking students to make predictions about what may happen next in the story, analyzing character traits and motivation, and examining elements of author’s craft.

Here are a few examples of ways classrooms have participated in the Global Read Aloud in the past.

  • Check out this example from 2014 where students used the tool Padlet to share their initial predictions prior to reading each of the titles included in the Peter H. Reynolds author study.
  • While reading The One and Only Ivan during the 2012 GRA, Fifth Graders in Buenos Aires, Argentina were inspired to create protest signs that corresponded with the story and share them via the video creation tool Animoto.
  • Mrs. Moore’s 3rd grade class in Arizona shared their thinking about 2014’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane via their class blog.

If you are reading this article after the 2015 deadline for participation you can be thinking ahead to how you might like to participate in 2016, or you may consider how you could recreate this event at a local campus, district, or state level. Perhaps you have a colleague that teaches in another state or country who would be interested in collaborating with you on a smaller scale project. The main goal is to connect with other classrooms to share the joy of reading, but the real beauty of the Global Read Aloud lies in the natural integration of technology tools for communication, collaboration, and creativity into an engaging academic event that supports literacy. Students are able to connect digitally and share ideas, thinking, and interpretations with other students under the safe guidance of their teacher. It is also a wonderful way to begin (or continue) classroom conversations around the digital citizenship concepts of internet safety and curation of an appropriate and respectful digital presence.