Archive for the ‘Issue 3’ Category

Administrators: Focus on Supporting Differentiation

Monday, December 12th, 2011

As an administrator, you understand the importance of differentiation in the classrooms of your school as a way to improve student achievement for all students.  You know that, as the instructional leader, your role is to make sure that differentiation is taking place consistently in every classroom.

But HOW?  Below are some suggestions that you may have overlooked or forgotten!

  • Talk the Talk.  Do you really know what differentiation looks like in the classroom?  If not, make the opportunity to educate yourself. Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson and her website,, are a great place to start.  Besides her books and presentations, Dr. Tomlinson’s website has links to ASCD articles and materials on differentiation.  They will help ensure that you can “talk the talk” with your staff.
  •  Now, Walk the Walk.  How often are you getting into classrooms?  Are you scheduling the time on your calendar?  This is the best way to let teachers know that what is happening in the classrooms is a priority for you.
  •  Discover Ways to Demonstrate Differentiation Yourself.  Professional development, even staff meetings, can hold elements of differentiation for staff members.  Be sure to take a few minutes to debrief, so that staff knows that what they have just participated in is differentiation, and give them the opportunity to talk together about how they could incorporate the techniques into their classrooms.
  •  Finally, Feed Them!  Walkthroughs and classroom observations are nearly useless without the final piece….feedback for the teachers!  Send a written note or email compliment when you catch them differentiating; make time to ask a probing question when you consistently don’t find differentiation in a classroom.  You’ll find out what your teachers need, whether through opportunities to watch someone else differentiate, a book study, a workshop, or online resources.  Start the conversation! 

Concise and Precise: Important Tips for STAAR Writing

Monday, December 12th, 2011


What do Maurice Sendak, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner have in common? None of them made their point in 26 lines. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And that’s what Texas students will be expected to do on STAAR.  We can, as Sendak said in Where the Wild Things Are, “Let the wild rumpus start!”  Or we can create purposeful, thoughtful assignments that allow our students to showcase their writing talents.

Before we start talking about instruction, let’s begin with the end in mind.  We know that students will be required to write within specific genres for each grade level. We know rubrics are available to us at

Genres for STAAR Writing

Grade 4 Personal Narrative Expository
Grade 7 Personal Narrative with extension Expository
English I Expository Literary
English II Expository Persuasive
English III Persuasive Analytical

Thanks to Victoria Young, Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessments at the Texas Education Agency, we know about what characterizes the field test papers.

Characteristics of Score Point 3 or  4 Papers Characteristics of Score Point 1 or 2 Papers
  • Good form/purpose match
  • Introduction and conclusion short but effective
  • Explicit thesis
  • Sustained focus
  • Economical use of space – tight, specific, logical development; no wasted words
  • Specific use of language and appropriate tone for purpose
  • Well crafted
  • Narrow and deep focus
  • Clear beginning, middle and end
  • Strong conventions



  • Wrong form for purpose (e.g., writing a story in response to expository prompt)
  • Weak, evolving, or non-existent thesis
  • BIGGEST PROBLEM: Wasted space
    • Repetition
    • Wordiness
    • Extraneous details of examples
    • Looping/meandering
    • Meaningless introductions and/or conclusion
  • General/vague use of language or inappropriate  tone for purpose
  • Poorly crafted
  • Weak conventions



(Presented at the Texas Assessment Conference, December, 2011)

So what does this mean for classroom instruction? We must teach our students to write concisely and precisely, including nothing superfluous and stating things clearly. This is what the TEKS require. We can teach much through comparison and contrast.  Consider the following.

Moving  from Exploding the Moment to Concise and Precise

Blah sentence

Explode the Moment

Precise but concise

He walked through the door. He grasped the cold doorknob and turned it slowly to the right.  He pushed the door inward.  The hinges squeaked and cold air rushed past the opening door.  The room was dark.  His eyes darted to the right.  Nothing.  He pushed the door open a little farther, and slowly moved his right foot into the room.  His shoe creaked a bit as it hit the polished hardwood floor. He crept through the door, hoping to be as quiet as a mouse.
I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother holding a skateboard. Upon opening the gate to our backyard I wondered if there was a surprise in store for me.  My hands began to sweat with anticipation as crossed the yard to the enclosed patio.  I had to remind myself that it wasn’t the gift, but the thought that counted as I ran into the kitchen.  The door slammed behind me as I was greeted by the sweet smell of chocolate cake and my mother.  She was beaming as she held out my gift: the red skateboard – the red skateboard I had pointed out to my mother in the toy store window! As I darted into the kitchen to grab a snack, I was amazed when my mother handed me the skateboard of my dreams.
We have more homework in middle school than we did in elementary school. In middle school we have way more homework!  I do more homework now than I ever have.  I have at least two hours every night.  In elementary school, there was no homework.  What a change!  Running around the sunny playground during recess with my blond best friend worked just fine for me. Now I slave away on homework like a dog.  Who ever invented it is someone who I’d like to have a word with. I recall elementary school as an idyllic time where my biggest worry was who I was going to play with at recess.  Now that I am in middle school, I worry about getting all my homework done.

(Definitions and antonyms from

Students who are able to contrast Explode the Moment with precise and concise writing and who are able to identify from their own reading examples and non-examples of concise and precise writing are better to able to write their own effective pieces.

Have you ever considered using Twitter to help students narrow down their writing? The 140 character limit per tweet is made for concise and precise writing! Many “performance artists” emulate different writers’ styles – a good step toward readiness for writing an analytical essay.

@InTheGreenLight: “Fatigue was a drug as well as a poison.”  (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

@bcollinspoetry:  “I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat, and my life is the breeze that blows through the whole scene.”

For more on this phenomenon go to

If you like the idea of using Twitter, but want a more closed environment, consider using TodaysMeet ( Like Twitter, there is a 140 character limit per post; unlike Twitter it’s a controlled room. You set up the room and send the link to those you want to include. You can also set how long you want the room to be available (as short as 2 hours or as long as one year). Try it now by accessing

There are many other tools and approaches for teaching students to write concisely and precisely. Careful planning and revision have always been critical to any piece of good writing.  It’s something that we’re teaching already, as required by our standards. Being able to write concisely and precisely within the space of 26 lines makes these skills even more critical. When we ensure that our students master the standards, we ensure that they are world ready and STAAR ready.


Additional Resources Writing concise sentences: examples of wordy sentences. You can enter your more concise  revision and then you also see a suggested concise version of each sentence. Eliminating wordiness: examples of wordy sentences, and one way each might be fixed.  Writing concisely. Getting rid of the dead wood. More on using social media. Texas Assessment Conference presentations are posted here.


Grouping for Learning

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Placing students into smaller groups can help ensure student achievement.  Grouping practices not only impact achievement, but also improve attitudes toward peers and the subject matter.

Instead of this:

found at on 12-6-11

We could have this:

found at on 12-6-11

This level of engagement can be achieved through the use of grouping.  There are various reasons to form groups.

Situations that can be opportunities for grouping include:

  • Inquiry-based projects and investigations
  • Activation of prior knowledge
  • Exploration and expansion on subject matter
  • Reflection, review and reteach
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment

While students are in groups, the instruction can be centered around the teacher or the students.  A small group of students may be working in a teacher-centered group while the rest of the class participates in student-centered learning.

Teacher-centered instruction enables the teacher to differentiate student learning.  You can differentiate by re-teaching, providing enrichment and/or feedback or reinforcing a recently taught skill.


Instructional Focus

Group Formation

Small Group

(same ability)

  • Instruction targeted to specific student  needs
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment
  • 3-5 students
  • Based on assessment data

Small Group

(mixed ability)

  • Practice concepts already introduced
  • Reinforcement
  • 4-6 students
  • Based on students’ learning styles or interests

Student-centered grouping allows for students to co-construct knowledge with their peers, thus allowing for teachers to pull small groups.  These student-to-student interactions also improve student engagement and retention.

Many options exist for carrying out student-centered groups.  The two listed below represent two ends of the spectrum, but a combination of both could be used depending on the content, age of the students and the intended outcome.  The key is students working together in a self-directed fashion to achieve a learning objective.




  • 3-4 students per group
  • 3-5 stations designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives
  • Explicit instructions given at each station to enable self-direction
  • Students may do all or a few of the stations. Work may be completed in one period or across multiple days.

Collaborative Group

  • 2-5 students per group
  • 1 inquiry-based project or activity designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives (may be tiered to adjust for student ability and prior knowledge)
  • Each group is working collaboratively to complete the activity

When educators hear the term “grouping” often we visualize an elementary classroom, but research strongly supports the use of many grouping strategies across all content areas and grade levels.  Students of any age benefit from the opportunity to discuss content with their peers, co-constructing a deep understanding of key concepts.  In addition, grouping builds habits of mind necessary for college and career success.

It may take many forms, but student grouping, in any iteration, is a valuable tool for increasing engagement, retention of content and overall achievement.


Monday, December 12th, 2011

The “Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations” will no longer be a term applicable to STAAR administration. Instead,  students with dyslexia, dyslexia characteristics, and reading difficulties may be eligible for a wide range of accommodations on all content areas of the STAAR and STAAR End of Course assessments.  Considering the variability in the severity of difficulty students have with basic reading skills and test performance in all grades, and who may or may not be identified with dyslexia, this change in TEA policy makes sense.  TEA continues to engage in the process of establishing the most appropriate testing accommodation policies for students with dyslexia, but we can be relatively confident of the process required for students to access 2012 STAAR Accommodations.   First and foremost, the student must use the accommodations routinely in classroom or testing situations.  The accommodation decisions and plans will be made and documented by:

  • an RtI or Student Support Team if the student has been identified as dyslexic (but does not receive 504 or special education services),
  • a Section 504 Committee, if the student has dyslexia or has evidence of a reading difficulty as determined by a Section 504 committee (documented within an Individualized Accommodation Plan), or
  • an ARD Committee, if the student is reading disabled with dyslexic characteristics or has evidence of a reading difficulty (documented within an Individualized Educational Plan).

Additionally, LPAC committees/members are required to participate in any of these committees’ decision-making processes when accommodation decisions are being made for students who are ELL and who have disabilities.

Students meeting the eligibility criteria as determined by any of these three committees may have access to oral administration of question and answer choices for the reading passages (no more reading of proper nouns, and NEVER oral reading of passages).  These accommodations on the STAAR Reading test have now been extended to include students taking STAAR English I, II, and III assessments.   Oral Administration of test question and answer choices (including reading of tables, graphs, etc.) in the subject areas of Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies is also an allowable accommodation for eligible students with dyslexia.  For STAAR Writing in 4th, 7th, and English I-III, writing prompts ONLY may be read aloud to eligible dyslexic students.  Documentation for these Type 2 accommodations should be maintained within the student’s cumulative folder, and Type 2 accommodations will also need to be documented on the student’s STAAR test forms.  Additionally, the level of reading support also needs to be determined and documented on the student’s IAP or IEP as either:

  1. reading parts of the question and answer choices at student request, or
  2. reading all question and answer choices throughout the test section.

Reminder:  It is permissible to provide ANY 3rd grade student periodic reading assistance on the Mathematics section of the STAAR. This is not considered to be an accommodation.  Should the 3rd grade student need the Mathematics question and answer choices read in their entirety, this level of accommodation would be considered a Type 2 Accommodation and should be documented as such on the student’s test form.

The appropriate committee may also decide that the student needs extended time, allowable until the end of the school day.  Current verbal guidance from TEA (although not final or posted on the Accommodations Triangle) states that extended time for a 2nd day of administration will require an Accommodation Request Form and only in extreme cases of need will there be approval.

For specific student eligibility criteria and further accommodation guidelines for calculator use, math manipulatives, dictionary use, and supplemental aids, click on the live links on TEA’s Accommodations Triangle posted at the following web address:   

The Optional Test Administration Procedures and Materials document link which specifies allowable accommodations for all students has currently been removed from the above Accommodations Resource webpage and is being revised.  One possible revision will be that small group or individualized test administration will not be an allowable accommodation for all students, but will be a Type 2 Accommodation needing a committee’s decision and documentation for students meeting specific eligibility criteria.   Keep abreast of TEA updates by continuing to access the above Accommodations Resource webpage.

STAAR Dyslexia Accommodations Nov 2011

Doing More With Less: Make MS Word Work for YOU (and your students, too)

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I haven’t met one teacher yet this year who doesn’t feel stretched beyond thin by trying to meet instructional demands with less resources.  With money being tight and the continued and important need to differentiate for diverse learning needs, if I told you that there were tools within Microsoft Word (therefore free) that would make YOUR life easier AND also help out students, you’d want to read on, right?

Okay, well, so as not to overwhelm with every helpful feature Microsoft Word offers, in this posting let’s focus on MS Word’s tools for reading.


  • There are students in your class that are not quite reading on grade level.
  • There are students in your class for whom English is not their first language.
  • There are students in your class who, albeit very infrequently, are off task.
  • There are students in your class who might be absent.
  • There are students in your class who might be pulled out for various reasons or activities.
  • Your students have the occasional need to read. J
  • There are students in your class who require directions, tests, or assignments to be read aloud.
  • You have students who need these directions, tests or assignments read aloud and repeated multiple times.
  • You wish it didn’t take so much man-power to read aloud to students.
  • You have a teacher computer.
  • You have Microsoft Word.
  • You use Microsoft Word documents (handouts, tests/quizzes, templates, tables, etc.).
  • You have some ability to use a computer lab or mobile laptop carts.
  • You remember something about there being technology TEKS and students being 21st century learners.
  • You have a sense of humor.

Insert Voice/Sound Object

The first tool I want to share is called “Insert Voice/Sound Object.”  Teachers (and students) who use the Insert Voice/Sound feature within MS Word have been extremely happy with how easy and powerful it is.  Its functions allow any document to be turned into a “talking” assignment or test and can free up the time staff spends reading aloud to students.  It records for up to one minute, but you can insert voice comments as many times as needed to read a test in its entirety.  I actually recommend that for tests, separate voice recordings are done for each question and each answer choice so that a student can easily replay a segment without having to listen to previous questions or answers.

Advantages to using technology to support the accommodations already being provided are that duplication of effort from staff are reduced; and maybe more importantly, it allows students to practice and gain independence.  After all, in college, students will not have an assistant to read to them.  Additionally, students can listen at their own pace, have text re-read as often as needed, and possibly be able to remain in class to take a test.  This is what full access to the curriculum is all about.

I should mention that inserting voice comments will require a headset with a microphone.  (A Logitech USB headset with microphone is easily available and around $20.)

Finally, the applications for inserting voice comments into Word documents are more robust than described here.  An example of another use might be to copy and paste text, articles, or passages from other sources (Internet, PDF, etc.) and imbed guiding questions in frequent chunks, or reminders to students for use of cognitive or summarization strategies.  Get creative!  While it may seem like more work up front, it will certainly pay off; you’ll have this document for as long as needed and for as many students as needed.  The voice file stays with the document and can be emailed, “saved as,” and transferred or stored without problem.

To learn how to Insert Audio/Voice into Word Documents view these videos:

Word 2007-

Word 2010 –


The second tool that I think is essential for differentiation and freeing up teacher time spent reading aloud to students is the free downloadable text-to-speech plug-in called WordTalk (  In contrast to a human voice reading text, this is a software/computerized speech that also has the ability to highlight each word that is being read. Additionally, it contains a talking dictionary, talking synonym finder and can convert text-to-mp3 so that students can listen to the document on their portable mp3 player (iPod, etc.).  The WordTalk plug-in creates an “Add-In” tab with a toolbar that offers customization of male/female computerized voices, speed, volume, and color of highlighting bar.  All of the advantages discussed earlier apply, with the added bonus that no teacher prep time is needed in order to create a talking test/handout that is done in Word (or copied and pasted into Word).  The drawbacks that might be encountered are that some students don’t like the computerized voice and that some words are mispronounced by the program.  Definitely download this to try on your home computer and then be sure to ask your IT department to check it out and consider putting it on the district network so that any student anywhere can access this support if needed.

Don’t Forget These

I was in an inclusion classroom recently where students were answering comprehension questions using evidence found in the text.  The teacher was leading the discussion as a whole group activity, projecting the questions from her computer (in a Word document) onto her white board.  The kids were engaged and thinking, pairing and sharing, but if we wanted to easily layer in extra supports or perhaps provide necessary accommodations, we could consider options such as:

  • Enlarging the font  (this is 14)
  • Using sans-serif fonts (simpler, clearer) [This is Calibri]
  • Increasing the spacing between the lines (this is 1.5)
  • Bolding or highlighting key words/phrases
  • Inserting graphics to support comprehension or memory of important info for a test (Clip Art, shapes)
  • Using graphic organizers such as SmartArt or the templates in Word:

  •  After modeling these features during class discussions, encourage or assign a student helper to take over.
  •  The assignment could then be printed or emailed to a student as a copy of classroom notes or to use as a study guide.

Take a moment to compare the text immediately above with the Times New Roman font and format this post began with and see which one best grabs your attention and is easiest to read.  I hope at least one of these features might be helpful.  Happy Teaching!

To learn how to use these features use:

Making Connections: Points of Instructional Integration and Skill Building

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Our goal as educators is that our students grow into productive citizens with a wealth of skills to draw from. We want to foster learning so that students are critical thinkers and problem solvers who are able to make connections and apply their learning in new and novel situations. The TEKS call for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. STAAR calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. Life calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections.  This necessitates that our instruction include and build critical thinking, problem solving, and making opportunities for students to make connections.

In modern education, we are under more and more time constraints with fewer resources. We often feel we are trying to do it all and it seems there just is not enough time. It is easy at times  to become focused on the pure content within our grade level or subject matter, and forget that the skills we wish to build are transferrable skills that apply to all content and simply may look slightly different based upon the context.

As a result, we sometimes find ourselves and our lessons looking somewhat like a solved Rubik’s cube. Although within this particular game, getting all colors onto one side and isolated from the rest of the colors indicates you have “solved” the puzzle; in education this represents ideas, skills, and learning in isolation.

We want students to be able to operate within all of the colors and, in fact, NEED students to be able to operate in a more integrated fashion for STAAR and beyond.

Consider the term interdependence for a moment. What does it mean?

A dictionary definition would be “a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others.”  For students understanding content and their world, such a definition means nothing and holds little relevance. We learn about interdependence within Science. In fact, this is a key concept in science.  For example, the entire understanding of food chains relates to this idea among many others. Students may build an understanding of this vocabulary word within the Science context and examples, but can they apply it outside of these specifics?

  •  What might “interdependence” look like within Language Arts?

Characters are often interdependent. 

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Social Studies?

Countries in time of war and peace are interdependent upon each other. Economic systems, global economics, are interdependent upon one another.         

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Math?

Concepts such as part/part/whole and balanced equations include ideas of dependence and interdependence.

Would it be better to build on the idea in its entirety with multiple examples in order to assure students can transfer and apply knowledge or would it be best to know this term simply through a dictionary definition, a specific example such as a food chain, or within a specific content? Even if the word is introduced as a new vocabulary term in science, we want and need students to have word study skills that might enable them to determine what this unfamiliar word means, especially within multiple contexts.

That is one specific example with the intention of planting the seed for making connections and continuing learning throughout the day rather than in isolated periods of time or content.

Aligning TEKS to TEKS, side by side can be a daunting process when one considers the number of standards Texas has and how little time there is within a given day.  However, there are a few manageable ideas to begin to take the first small step(s) toward integrated learning throughout the day.  By doing so educators are able to “shave” time off of discreet stand-alone lessons and students are able to see connections and apply their learning across content and contexts.  These processes have the potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness by capitalizing what already exists within the TEKS and conceptual connections.

Within lesson design, we must look for opportunities to make connections and build skills across content.

1. Look across content units within the same time period: big ideas/concepts.

Are there opportunities for direct and explicit support or purposeful awareness or both?  For example, in 3rd grade Science your landforms unit may be within the same time frame as the Social Studies unit on landforms.  This is direct explicit support.  Or perhaps you teach English in 7th grade and the Texas History class covers political change in Texas as a result of the Civil War.  Through resource choice, instruction can support purposeful awareness and support the overall connections and learning associated with the Texas political climate without actually directly teaching the Social Studies TEKS within the English classroom.

2. Focus on transferrable skills across content and context:  TEKS skills strands

Every content has a skills strand, or skills-based student expectations, embedded within the course TEKS.  These are the very skills needed to approach and access content in order to make connections and increase comprehension.  Focusing on the skills across the course of the day rather than “period to period,” regardless of the content, builds practice and repetition and therefore increases skill levels.  For example, if we consider the 3rd grade TEKS and the skills embedded, we can identify basic skill categories, including data collection, analysis, inferring, forming conclusions, and problem-solving.   Similar skills found within these and other categories can be found in Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health, and Technology Applications.  Learning effective data collection across content areas allows the students to see the skill applied within different contexts and in new and novel situations, resulting in deeper and broader understanding.

In the end it is the student who ultimately benefits from this direct explicit support and purposeful awareness.  We know the brain is wired for making connections.  By asking where there are opportunities to make connections and build skills during the lesson design process, we make more efficient use of our time while increasing the overall effectiveness of our instruction.

Google Earth in the Science Classroom

Monday, December 12th, 2011

As I write this, I am flying high over the New Mexico desert glancing out the airplane window marveling at and wondering about the world below me.  The rectangular fields, the alluvial deposits from ancient rivers long dry, the plateaus, hills and mountains all captivate me and remind me how incredible our planet truly is.  I also wonder at the forces that created all these features.  Fields, well, they are man-made so those are easy to figure out, but the natural features astonish me.  How high were the mountains before erosion took hold? How high are they now?  How wide are the alluvial deposits? How much material do they represent, where did it come from, and how long have they been forming? What geologic wonders am I missing by sitting on the south side of the plane?


erosional features

Unfortunately, not all of our students will fly at 30,000 feet over mountains just as we try and teach them the true power of erosional and depositional forces, nor will they see this view of their own town to realize that similar (although smaller in scale) features are found almost everywhere.  Luckily technology exists to enable you and your students to view almost any place on Earth from any altitude, and better yet, the technology is FREE!!  Free?  Yup, free.  All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection.  Ok, yes, some of you will also need your technology folks to install software for you; but other than time, it’s free.

While there are multiple places to find satellite images I have two favorites: Google Earth and NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Google Earth, which does require installation, allows users to view photographic satellite (or airplane) images of almost any place on Earth.

While the software can take a few minutes to learn it is easy to get started.

Download at

Visit the following websites for more information on how to get started using Google Earth.  Also, make sure you are on our science listserv (sign up at to receive information about Google Earth workshops coming to ESC Region XIII in Spring and Summer.

STEM: Top 10 Resources

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Transformation 2013 T-STEM Center

Transformation 2013 T-STEM Center is a partnership between ESC Region XIII in Austin and ESC Region 20 in San Antonio. Transformation 2013 T-STEM Center serves central Texas and El Paso T-STEM Academies as well as other schools focusing on innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) instruction. The vision of Transformation 2013 is to provide the highest quality professional development, curriculum, and outreach programs emphasizing hands-on problem-based learning to create superior STEM scholars. Our “Top 10 STEM Resources” are cited below including a summary of each resource and a hyperlink to each full-text document.

1. Bybee, R. W. (2010, September). Advancing STEM Education: A 2020 Vision. The Technology and Engineering Teacher, 70(1), 30-35.

This document details the phases and goals of a decade-long STEM action plan to move STEM education beyond the slogan to make STEM literacy for all students a national priority. Initially, the purpose of STEM literacy must be clarified, and then the challenges to advancing STEM education must be addressed. Furthermore, the STEM curriculum will be advanced by presenting challenges or problems framed in life and work contexts involving STEM to engage students.

2. Fulton, K., & Britton, T. (2011, June). STEM Teachers in Professional Learning Communities: From Good Teachers to Great Teaching. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future:

The research compiled in this executive summary is based on a National Science Foundation‐funded project: STEM Teachers in Professional Learning Communities: A Knowledge Synthesis. The NSF Knowledge Synthesis indicates that STEM learning teams have positive effects on STEM teachers and their teaching, and students of teachers participating in STEM professional learning communities achieve higher success in math.

3. Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from American Association of University Women:

This study was conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The summary emphasizes practical ways that families, schools and communities can create an environment of encouragement that can overcome negative stereotypes about the capacity of women in these demanding fields.

4. ITEEA. (2003). Advancing Excellence in Technological Literacy: Student Assessment, Professional Development, and Program Standards. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from International Technology and Engineering Educators Association:

As a companion document to the Standards for Technological Literacy listed below, this document provides a guideline for implementation of the standards in K-12 classrooms. It details important topics such as student assessment, professional development, and program enhancement, while leaving specific curricular decisions to teachers, schools, districts, and states.

5. ITEEA. (2007). Standards for Technological Literacy. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from International Technology and Engineering Educators Association

The content standards and related benchmarks indicate what all students need to know and be able to do to achieve technological literacy. The Standards for Technological Literacy provide the foundation upon which the study of technology is built.

6. Langdon, D., McKittrick, G., Beede, D., & Doms, M. (2011, July). STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration:

Growth in STEM jobs occurred three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs in the last ten years and as a result, U.S. businesses are expressing concerns with the availability of STEM workers. STEM occupations are projected to grow 17% between 2008 and 2018 compared to less than 10% growth for non-STEM occupations; therefore, STEM workers will play a significant role in future growth and stability of the United States.

7. Sanders, M. (2009, December/January). STEM, STEM Education, STEMmania. The Technology Teacher, 20-26.

The origin of STEM, the current status of how integrative STEM education is addressed for teachers and students, and the systematic changes that are needed to approach integrative STEM education are discussed. In a world where the STEM pipeline problem has been widely publicized, this article addresses the question “Why Integrative STEM Education?” rather than conventional STEM education to achieve technological literacy for all.

8. Texas High School Project. (2010, November 15). T-STEM Design Blueprint. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from THSP:

Used by T-STEM academies, the T-STEM design blueprint, rubric, and glossary serve as a guideline for building and sustaining STEM schools. The blueprint addresses seven benchmarks: 1) mission driven leadership; 2) school culture and design; 3) student outreach, recruitment, and retention; 4) teacher selection, development and retention; 5) curriculum, instruction, and assessment; 6) strategic alliances; and 7) academy advancement and sustainability.

9. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010, September). Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in STEM for America’s Future. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from The White House:

The recommendations in this report suggest five priorities that provide a roadmap for achieving our STEM vision: “(1) improve Federal coordination and leadership on STEM education; (2) support the state-led movement to ensure that the Nation adopts a common baseline for what students learn in STEM; (3) cultivate, recruit, and reward STEM teachers that prepare and inspire students; (4) create STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students of all backgrounds; and (5) support states and school districts in their efforts to transform schools into vibrant STEM learning environments.”

10. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. (2010, March). ESEA Blueprint for Reform. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from United States Department of Education:

In providing students a complete world-class education and college and career readiness, we must strengthen STEM instruction and standards. The availability of grants will support the strengthening of state-wide STEM programs, and support districts in identifying effective instructional materials and improving teachers’ knowledge and skills in STEM instruction for all students.

Article by Karissa Poszywak
STEM Specialist
Transformation 2013 T-STEM Center at ESC Region XIII
Phone: 512-919-5139

Special thanks to Joules Webb, STEM Specialist at ESC Region 20, for recommending these top ten resources.

What Does Progress Monitoring Really Look Like?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

We are almost at the halfway point in the year and you have groups all over your classroom and so does everyone else in the school.  The questions start to echo off the walls: Is Mary in the right group?  Are they progressing fast enough to close the gap by the end of the year?  Am I doing this strategy correctly?  How do I group the students to get the most progress in the least amount of time?  Is this strategy working or not?

A critical key component to successful progress monitoring is setting reasonable goals.  We do not want to waste time implementing an ineffective strategy or taking data and then not using it to help guide our instruction.  If you have not set goals for your class as a whole and for individuals who are struggling, then you are going to have a very difficult time trying to get them where they need to be.  Consider the following analogy (Adapted from V. Lynch, C. McGuigan, and S. Shoemaker, “An Introduction to Systematic Instruction”).

Suppose you are taking a trip.  Contrast the difference between taking that trip having specified your destination and taking the trip with no special endpoint in mind.  For example, you leave Seattle this morning with a goal to reach Mexico City by nightfall three days hence, as opposed to merely leaving Seattle.  Without a specified destination and projected arrival time, you know neither in which direction to go nor how fast to travel; having established a goal, you know both these facts (head south and really hustle).  With this information you can judge whether the direction and the rate at which you are traveling will get you to your final destination on time.

If you have not set specific goals for the end of the year yet, it is not too late.  You need to meet with your colleagues/team and decide what the specific end of year goal is for each of your students.  Look back at your data and determine how many students have already met the goal, how many are close to reaching the goal already and how many students have a long way to go.  There are many research based standards for establishing performance goals using baseline data including DIBELS (, AIMSWeb (, and “Formative evaluation of academic progress: How much growth can we expect?”  School Psychology Review, 22, 27-48 (  You can also use normative peer data to establish a reference point for the initial goal for an individual. Not only is it critical to set a goal for your students but a key factor in determining success is teacher responsiveness to the data.  “Goal ambitiousness seems to positively affect student achievement.” (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Deno, 1985)  In other words, teachers and students who set their goals higher and continue to increase those goals progress at a more rapid rate than do peers who select lower performance goals and do not change them.  It is also crucial for teachers to follow specific rules for how to be responsive to the data instead of just collecting and graphing it.  Having clear and measurable goals allows teachers  to work as a team with other teachers and with the students.  There can be meaningful and concise communication with regard to how and what students need to improve, and whether they are indeed progressing.  Student progress will help keep the groups flexible as teachers adjust the groups according to student level of progress and program modification.

Let’s look at how to use goal setting, scores along the goal line, and program modification to make decisions about student progress.  If the student’s current level of performance is more than one-half of the peer norm, and if we had more than 30 weeks left in the school year, we would consider setting the goal at the current peer norm.  Since we do not have 30 weeks left in the year,  we need to reduce the goal to a level that we estimate to be attainable.  Initial goal setting may be done through estimation because it can be adjusted if the goal turns out to be unreasonable.   The main point here is to set a goal for every student so you know where you are headed.  Progress toward that goal is then represented on a student graph using a goal line.  When 4 consecutive scores exceed the goal line, raise the goal.  In contrast, when 4 consecutive scores fall below the goal line, modify the program.  Draw a vertical line on the graph to indicate where the program was modified and continue to graph the scores.  The new goal line will need to be parallel to (but lower than) the goal line beginning at the student’s present level of performance.  You may also adjust your groups at this time to regroup students who are progressing without modification and students who will all need an adjustment to the program.  Keep in mind that you will need to progress monitor the lowest 40% of your students more often than the others.  You will also need to monitor the programs in which more students are struggling more often than the programs in which most of the students are progressing along their goal line.

Program modification includes a myriad of options.  It is important to first look at the implementation integrity to make sure the program is being used in the way it was designed.  There are a number of implementation integrity checklists created by Alecia Rahn Blakeslee at  Once you have determined the integrity of the intervention, you can start to look at ways to modify it in order to meet the needs of your students and your campus.  Deb Simmons has created a chart that displays alterable variables in programs. This chart is available at  There are several other guidelines to consider when modifying any program.  Supplemental groups should optimally include no more than five or six students.  Intensive groups should optimally include no more than three or four students.  Put the most qualified staff with the neediest students.  Your campus may want to do a personnel resource inventory with ALL staff (general education, Title l and special education teachers, G/T, ELL specialists, paraprofessionals, trained volunteers) to see who has knowledge, skills and experience with the strategies you want to put in place.  Scheduling is another important factor.  Possibly have teachers teach core subjects at different times of the day or different periods so the support staff can schedule time in each classroom and students can access additional time in other classrooms.  You can list each teacher and support personnel’s schedule in 15 minute increments.  Any 15 minute section that they are not teaching core content is a possible intervention time.  This could be a way to provide the additional intervention time for the supplemental and intensive groups.

RtI implementation takes a commitment from all the staff and administrators.  Students will be successful if we use our time and resources effectively and efficiently.  At this point in the year teachers and the leadership team need to be looking at the goals for all students and their progress towards those goals.  It is critical to be responsive to the data that have been collected to modify the program after implementation fidelity has been established.  There are many resources to guide you through this process.  For more information please refer to the RtI Blueprint for Implementation- School Building Level at and the Progress Monitoring Leadership Team Content Module at