Posts Tagged ‘instructional strategies’

Increase Student Interaction in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Authors: Monica Gonzalez, Education Specialist, ESL/Bilingual

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin


According to TEA’s reports there are 817,165 ELL students in Texas, 456,051 enrolled in bilingual education, and 310,812 enrolled in English as a Second Language.  There are over 120 different home languages represented in Texas schools. 91% of ELL students speak Spanish.  With this increase in English language learners, our approach to teaching has to evolve in order to ensure success for this group of students.  English language learners (ELLs) are tested every year to measure their language development in listening, speaking, reading and writing (the 4 language domains).  Studies have shown that the best way for ELL students to rapidly increase their linguistic proficiency in these four areas is to increase student interaction.  Do you ask yourself, “What does that mean? What does that look like?”  Read on to find the answer to these questions.


Student interaction has been called classroom interaction, cooperative learning and student engagement. Regardless of the title or term used, student interaction is a practice in which listening and speaking skills of English language learners are enhanced through meaningful conversations with classmates. This interaction enables ELLs to think critically and orally share their views with classmates.  To know how to increase student interaction, you need to understand the linguistic development of these language skills.  As you read these descriptions, think of what you would need within each of these domains if you yourself were to learn another language.


Listening is the ability to understand spoken language, and to comprehend and extract information. It is imperative that students learn how to comprehend social and academic language.  Speaking is the ability to use social and academic language appropriately and effectively in different situations. Practicing social and academic language increases student comprehension and accelerates their oral proficiency.  Reading is the ability to comprehend and interpret written tests at a grade-appropriate level. Beginning readers may need lessons in phonics to learn the sound system of the English language. Finally, writing is the ability to produce written text with content and format to fulfill grade-appropriate assignments.  The expectations of writing will differ for each writer’s proficiency level.  Drawings would be appropriate for a beginner regardless of age or grade level.


Teachers who effectively engage students at high levels of interaction utilize three steps that scaffold each of the 4 language skills.

Modeling All students need to understand the desired outcome for the lesson.  Modeling is essential for beginning ELLs because the teacher is creating comprehensible input by demonstrating the processes students need to use to fulfill lesson objectives.   Teachers can translate and/or clarify, which increases student understanding and comprehension.

Guided practice is an activity that provides students the opportunity to grasp and develop concepts or skills while the teacher monitors students’ progress.  This setting allows for a risk-free environment in which students are free to verbally express themselves without the fear of making a mistake.  Students also feel comfortable because of the support of their peers.  Guided practice is not simply assigning a worksheet, problems or questions to be completed in class.

Independent practice provides students the opportunity to apply what they have learned.  When students are aware of the final outcome with resources such as rubrics and criteria charts, they can work together to practice or edit each other’s work before it is turned in to be graded.

This process of modeling, guided practice and independent practice is commonly called “I Do”, “We Do” and “You Do.”


The following table shows student interaction activities that follow the process in each of the four language skills.

Increase Student Interaction-table



TEA, last modified October 12, 2012.  Snapshot of ELLs in Texas.

Seidlitz, John and Auer, Valerie. Navigating the ELPS in the English Language Arts and Reading Classroom. San Clemente, CA: Canter Press, 2010.


The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert

We all get ideas from time to time, but not all ideas are equal.  Some ideas are just fleeting thoughts, while other ideas actually turn into something substantial.  My hope for one particular idea is to have a lasting and meaningful impact.  In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that this idea wasn’t exactly mine (my apologies if I led you on).  In October of 2012, I attended a session at the Western History Association Conference that was co-led by a professor from Northern Arizona University.  The professor, Linda Sargent Wood, spoke of “History Labs” that she incorporated into her methods class for pre-service history teachers.   I thought this was a pretty interesting idea, so I took to finding her published article, Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course.  As I read it, I was captivated by the idea of presenting students with an assemblage of primary and secondary sources and posing a historical problem that requires students to interpret through historical investigation.   Dr. Wood intended for her students to “…wrestle with historical narratives and accounts rather than simply memorizing facts and concepts.”


After reading Dr. Wood’s article, I thought this idea needed to be incorporated somehow into my work as a Social Studies Education Specialist at Region 13,  so we applied for a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Grant using the historical lab as the cornerstone idea.  The goal of the grant, The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab, is to use the Library of Congress digital primary source materials to produce teacher-created historical labs.   Region 13 was funded for the grant in August 2013 and within a few short weeks we quickly moved to forming a cohort of elementary, middle, and high school social studies teachers that will spend time in deeper scholarship around the development of historical labs.


To assist in the process of learning, we will be engaging in a group study of Bruce Lesh’s book, “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.  Written by an experienced history teacher, this book chronicles Lesh’s approach to developing and incorporating historical study investigations with his students at the center of the process.  It is a remarkable read for anyone searching for a practicable method of engaging students in historical analysis.  The teacher cohort formed for this grant will dedicate time to creating labs of their own to guide students in effective reasoning, decision making, and historical interpretation.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to cultivate a professional learning community among my peers that will ultimately impact students.  I think this idea is getting at the heart of what it means to think critically.



Lesh, Bruce. A. “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 (Portland: Stenhouse, 2011).

Wood, Linda Sargent, “Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course,” The History Teacher 45 (2012), 549-567, accessed January 2013.

Teaching Science through Gallery Walks

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  Kristen Hillert, Secondary Science Specialist

As the school year gets under way and the honeymoon phase starts to fade, the importance of integrating new, exciting strategies becomes more and more important.  Integrating purposeful movement and conversations within the class period increase student engagement.

Gallery Walks can be used in all content areas as a way for students to see each others’ work and possibly evaluate it.  (See the Gallery Walk in action here:

But have you tried using Gallery Walks within the 5E Model as an Explore or Explain activity?  Allow the observations that students make be data that is then analyzed to form conclusions.


Gallery Walk:  5th grade Science example

TEKS: (10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms undergo similar life processes and have structures that help them survive within their environments. The student is expected to:

(C) describe the differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis of insects.

SET UP:  Each station has a picture of the life cycle of an insect.  There should be at least three examples of incomplete metamorphosis and three examples of complete metamorphosis.  However, the posters should not be labeled as “complete” or “incomplete.” This is something students will discover.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between stations and record characteristics of each life cycle including the stages of development.

DEBRIEF:  Students are told that all the organisms they observed can be classified into two types of life cycles and then are given time to sort their observations into two groups.  Students need to explain how they formed the groups.  The teacher then explains the word metamorphosis and introduces the phrases “complete metamorphosis” and “incomplete metamorphosis” and encourages the students to determine which label best fits each group of organisms.


Gallery Walk: 7th grade Science example

TEKS: (6) Matter and energy. The student knows that matter has physical and chemical properties and can undergo physical and chemical changes. The student is expected to:

(A) identify that organic compounds contain carbon and other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, or sulfur;

SET UP: Each station has a picture of an organic compound with the formula of the compound beneath it.  There is also a periodic table next to the picture that shows elements of the formula highlighted.

ACTIVITY:  Students record the examples of organic compounds and the elements in them at each station.

DEBRIEF: Teacher facilitates a discussion to help students discover the pattern of what organic compounds have in common and what is different between them.


Gallery Walk:  Chemistry example

TEKS: (7) Science concepts. The student knows how atoms form ionic, metallic, and covalent bonds. The student is expected to:

(B) construct electron dot formulas to illustrate ionic and covalent bonds

SET UP:  Round 1 – Each station has a picture of a simple Lewis Dot Structure for a Covalent Compound with bonds represented by dots.  The dots and element symbols are color coded.

Round 2 – Each station has an additional picture added to it that shows the same covalent compound but with lines to represent bonds instead of dots.

Round 3 – New stations are added with pictures of Lewis Dot Structures for Ionic Compounds.  The dots are color coded with the element symbols.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between the stations recording observations using the “I notice…” and “I wonder…” sentence stems on sticky notes and leaving them around the posters.

DEBRIEF:  Teacher organizes students’ observations and reads them to the group.  The observations form the foundation for the introduction to Lewis Dot Structures, how they are drawn, what they represent and how ionic and covalent compounds are represented differently.


  • To learn more about this strategy and other engaging ways to allow students to construct their knowledge of chemistry, join us Wednesday,  September 25, 2013 for the workshop:

Targeting the TEKS in High School Science – Chemistry: Chemical Formulas, Bonding and VSEPR (FA1327062). Register at

What to Look for on Pre-K Classroom Walk-Throughs

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Are your Pre-K classes “kid ready”?  Here is a quick list of 5 things to look for.





Word on the Street: Bigger Is Not Better…..when it comes to Mentor Texts for Literacy Skill Instruction

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Authors: Lenicia Gordon, Susan Diaz, and Janet Hester

Most contemporary researchers in literacy agree on at least this one fact:  Short, complex texts are the most effective and most critical foundation of the modern lesson cycle in high impact reading and writing instruction.  This is not to say that there is not a place for our favorite novels and short stories but when honing in on specific reading skills like understanding an author’s craft or purpose, making inferences, summarizing or making connections between texts, short rich texts (purposefully chosen for illustrative properties of the chosen skill to be taught) are the keystone.  This same paradigm is true for writing instruction as well.

The use of mentor texts and mini-lessons for skills, strategies, and revision is the common thread of advice from literacy experts we have been reading and engaging with this past year.  The other clear message is the importance of truly engaging all four processes: reading, speaking, listening, and writing embedded in each lesson cycle.

Steve Graham and Dolores Perin boil it down to three simple actions – Read, Emulate, Analyze when referring to anchoring learning about writing through the immersion in quality mentor texts – in their report “Writing Next for The Alliance for Excellent Education”.  To download the entire free PDF guide, “Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School”, visit Kelly Gallagher reiterates the importance of this three step process and adds that teachers need to “model, model, model!”  He also believes students need to be immersed in opportunities to read and analyze great fiction and write fiction.  The pendulum swing away from fiction and towards only nonfiction is a mistake in his mind that needs to be returned to balance.

Here are his five practical guiding questions which he suggests educators ask themselves before designing a reading lesson:

1)      What support do my students need before they begin reading a text?

2)      What strategies will assist them to read the text with purpose and clarity?

3)      How can I encourage a second-draft reading to facilitate deeper meaning?

4)      Which collaborative activities will help deepen their comprehension?

5)      How can I help students see the relevance this text plays in their world?

(Gallagher, Kelly. Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2004)

Jeff Anderson likens the process to the scientific method (Observe, Question, Hypothesize, Test, and Conclude). Anderson’s Analysis Process involves five steps: Noticing, Interacting, Naming, Experimenting, and Reflecting. In the Noticing phase, students read the mentor text independently and use annotating techniques to mark anything in the text they like or find interesting that the writer is doing. The next phase is called Interacting.  The teacher guides the students’ noticings to the focused skill of the writing lesson: for example, the thesis or imagery, etc. The Naming phase is when the teacher will bring in academic vocabulary and make broad generalizations about the genre of the writing: for example, cause/effect structure or “it’s called foreshadowing when an author does that”. Experimenting is a time for kids to play with language, patterns, and structures in their own writing that is connected to the instructional objective or skill.  Finally, the class Reflects. Students need a moment to consider if adding the element improves or detracts from the meaning of their essay and explain why they think so.  They can do their reflections through a quickwrite such as an exit ticket or a think/pair/share. (Anderson, Jeff. Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011)

Fountas and Pinnell outline the reading process through the study of genre with the foundation still being mentor text study, as such, a) Interactive read-aloud, b) Readers’ workshop, which includes book talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent reading, guided reading, literature discussion (book clubs), writing about reading, and group share, c) Writers’ workshop, which includes writers’ talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent writing, guided writing, and group share.

For an overview of their Six Step process to teaching an inquiry-based genre study check out this one-page reference sheet: Genre Study: Steps in the Inquiry Process:

(Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su Pinnell. Genre Study: Teaching with Fiction and Nonfiction Books: Grades K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.)

Stephanie Harvey contributes to this short mentor text movement by adding her twist, STOP, THINK, and REACT (Remember) when referring to the instructional process. “We teach kids to think so they can acquire and actively use knowledge.” Her primary “take home points” are: a) We need to be providing kids at ALL reading levels with COMPLEX texts and that this means complicated ideas, not necessarily lexile level. b) Annotating text is critical to close reading and close VIEWING of nonfiction features deepens understanding of expository texts. c) Students need to, “Stop, Think, and React (REMEMBER)…..STR!” and be provided ample opportunities to practice this with quality complex mentor texts. d) Students should skip the things they don’t understand in the FIRST read and make sense of what they DO know. Then in the SECOND read, they should focus on the things they don’t know and then try and understand. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Harvey, Stephanie, and Anne Goudvis. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2007)

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels points out the critical importance of pairing students to read, discuss and analyze texts and providing them compelling higher order questions to guide their discussions. Smokey reiterates the value of what students learn from each other through guided discourse.  They provide each other background and context, as well as the opportunity to engage in the entire literacy process of reading, writing, speaking, and listening so that they truly internalize content, strategies, and metacognition.  He shared some specific reading strategies such as finding the “Golden Nugget Sentence” in a selection among many others. “Smokey” Daniels will be presenting during our Distinguished Speakers Series here at Region 13 on Friday, December 6th! (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX  – Daniels, Harvey, and Marilyn Bizar. Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2005.)

Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger suggest many strategies for using POETRY to support READING skills and CONTENT learning across the curriculum.  Sara and Michael are leaders in the writing to learn movement in literacy instruction. They support ideas like using Haikus as a way to SUMMMARIZE content information. Due to the fact that Haiku requires such precise and carefully chosen words, it would be an excellent way to summarize, for example, a lesson about Abraham Lincoln, the food web, attributes of a geometric solid, etc.  They posit that poetry can support learning across the curriculum using poetic structures of Found Poems, Questioning Poems, Summary Poems, Refrain Poems, and List Poems. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Holbrook, Sara, and Michael Salinger. Outspoken!: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills through Poetry Performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.)

*Some of these distinguished speakers will be presenting at Region 13 in the near future. Visit our website to register!


Jeff Anderson-November 8th

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels- December 6th

Kelly Gallagher-January 10th


Best Practices for Teaching Beginner English Language Learners (ELLs) at the Secondary Level

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:   Oryan Landa, ESL Instructional Coach



Walk into just about any secondary campus today and you are bound to find a teacher wondering what to do with a student who doesn’t speak English. And for a teacher who might have a class of 30 students, knowing how to meet the needs of that one non-English speaker can be a seemingly impossible challenge. What often transpires is a climate of avoidance or the idea that someone else on campus is (or should be) serving that student’s needs. But the reality on many campuses is that there isn’t that “someone else.” The education of these students falls onto the shoulders of all of their teachers – often through the form of Sheltered Instruction.

Sheltered Instruction is a program model designed to help ELLs access grade-level subject matter. Many of the strategies are geared towards students with an Intermediate proficiency level or above; however there are a lot of strategies that content area teachers can use to assist beginners as well. Those are the strategies addressed in this article.

In an ideal world, Beginner ELLs would also have direct, targeted instruction in English, in the same manner that our students here study French or Spanish; something that some schools offer through local elective courses. Simply being here in this country isn’t enough to “pick up” the language, especially if they are Spanish speakers and can easily go most of the day speaking their native language. We also place a lot of focus on developing academic language, but knowing academic language isn’t enough to pass a test if they can’t read all that English in between the academic words. The reality, however, is that most schools are not offering direct English instruction, while at the same time wondering why these students are not passing their classes and statewide assessments.

There are few appropriate interventions for beginners because the students’ lexile score is typically not high enough to participate meaningfully in the program. Meanwhile, ESOL classes are geared towards mastery of the English Language Arts TEKS which is not the same as learning the English language. The two classes would have different curricula and different methodologies.


Here at Education Service Center Region 13, our focus is on finding solutions. And regardless of whether schools are providing direct, targeted instruction in English, the education of these students is the responsibility of an entire campus; not just the ESL teacher.  With that in mind, there are many things content area teachers can do to assist the language acquisition and development for Beginner ELLs.

In order for content area teachers to appropriately meet the needs of their ELLs, teachers need to know their students’ proficiency levels. These scores can be found in the TELPAS results located in any student’s permanent record, where they will be marked as having Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, or Advanced High proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.


Before we can move towards a target, we have to be clear about what that target is. The first thing a teacher should do is have patience and know that learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. According to research, developing social language alone can take 2-3 years and academic language can take 5-7 years. Our goal with Beginner ELLs is to move them from “little or no ability in reading, writing, listening and speaking” to an Intermediate proficiency level defined broadly as the ability to understand, read, and write simple, high-frequency English used in routine settings. From a solid foundation, we can move them to more advanced proficiency. But without a solid foundation, the students’ language development will suffer.  For teachers, this means creating opportunities for students to feel successful, rather than situation like failures. We need to praise students’ achievements and encourage them, focusing on their progress rather than focusing on what they cannot do.


As we move towards a specific target, there are things we have control over and things we don’t, and it’s important to know where we do have influence. For one, teachers have influence over a student’s motivation through encouragement and positive reinforcement. Controlling the affective environment – making these students feel welcomed and safe to take risks – is a major factor in their language development. This can be achieved through such things as greeting students with a smile, having a consistent classroom routine, seating them in the front or middle of the classroom, simplifying your speech (by speaking more slowly, using fewer words to explain concepts, avoiding idioms, paraphrasing ideas, and keeping directions short and simple), praising student attempts to use English, never ridiculing, pairing students up with a buddy who speaks their language and who is willing to befriend them and help them settle in , giving them a tour of the school, and putting their native culture on display. A teacher could also use a tool such as Google Translate to communicate with these students socially.

In group work, students can either partner up with a more advanced ELL, or have the Beginner ELL “tag-along” with another student, who pairs up with someone else – forming a trio. The key is to make them feel included.

Secondly, teachers have influence over these students’ access to language. This includes having appropriate materials available such as native-language/English dictionaries, translators, low-level/high-interest reading materials, and/or primary language resources. A teacher can also create a language rich environment with content-related posters, labels of the classroom, magazines and books with lots of visuals, and student-generated Word Walls. The idea is to fill your classroom with print and interesting things to talk, read and write about, so that students feel immersed in English just by being in your classroom.

Another way teachers can influence Beginner ELLs’ access to language is by making the instruction understandable. In ESL jargon we call this “comprehensible input.” This simply means making your messages easily understood. This is something that is most easily achieved through the use of visual communication or gesturing, and avoiding lecture-only instruction. Visuals should always be used to reinforce/explain what a teacher is trying to communicate. Once students achieve Intermediate proficiency, we can place more focus on developing academic language. But for a Beginner ELL, our focus should be on making things understood, so as to develop their receptive language skills. Developing students’ ability to understand English will positively influence their ability to produce English.

When interacting with Beginner ELLs, it’s also important to keep in mind that a lot of translating is going on in their heads. This means allowing them plenty of think time to both absorb information as well as formulate what they want to say. It also means that sometimes our messages need to be restated exactly the same way, because sometimes these students need to hear something several times to process its meaning. If a student still doesn’t understand, then we can rephrase our explanation, but what we want to avoid is explaining something five different ways, thereby giving them five different messages to process and translate. Less is always more.


  • Pre-teach and re-teach material – ideally in a small group, using visuals – or provide informational text in the student’s native language (which may mean translating articles or other texts, using Google Translate or a similar website).
  • Avoid passing over information only once. Beginner ELLs need multiple exposures to the material.
  • Modify assessments by underlining or bolding key words, paraphrasing or simplifying directions/questions, or allowing dictionaries/translators.
  • Provide alternative assessments such as true/false or multiple-choice tests instead of short answer formats or exams that require lots of writing. Other options include oral administration, or allowing for non-linguistic representation. The idea in the beginning is to assess for content knowledge – and not language ability.
  • Provide students with academic glossaries that provide explanations in the student’s native language.
  • Have students write in their native language, and then use Google Translate (or other resource) to translate their writing to English. Then have them copy the English version by hand.
  • Provide plenty of resources and opportunities for reading, which will help develop their grammar and vocabulary, as well as their listening, speaking, and writing ability.
  • Provide opportunities to practice speaking and writing in English, to cement the learning of both the content and the language.
  • Use the “I DO, WE DO, YOU DO” model of instruction to provide Beginner ELLs with plenty of modeling, guided practice, and peer support.
  • When students are working independently, support Beginner ELLs with one-on-one support.
  • Allow for single word or yes/no responses, grammatical and spelling errors, listing and labeling, peer support and cooperative learning, and use of drawing.
  • Provide language scaffolds such as sentence stems, paragraph frames, and graphic organizers.

Having a Beginner ELL in class can be intimidating for any teacher. It’s even more intimidating for the student. There’s a lot we don’t have control over, such as a student’s home environment, their prior schooling, or their personality. The key is knowing what needs to be in place for successful learning to occur. We do have influence over the environment we create, the relationship we establish with them, and the language we give them access to.

Flipped Classrooms

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Technology & Library Media Services Specialist


Flipped classrooms.  Flipped learning.  If you haven’t heard these education buzz words in the past 12 months, chances are good that you will hear them in the next. They refer to a concept, a method of teaching, that is gaining attention and popularity in schools and classrooms of creative teachers trying to meet student needs in an increasingly diverse and technology rich world.


What, exactly, is a “flipped classroom”?  In the most general terms, a flipped classroom is one in which the content of a lesson is delivered outside of class time (usually as homework consisting of a pre-recorded video lecture), and the practice portion of the lesson is carried out during class time with teacher guidance.  The concept of flipped learning has been around for a while, but it was most recently popularized by two chemistry teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.  While co-teaching in a rural Colorado high school, Bergmann and Sams were looking for a better way to guide students through the application phase of their learning.  “The time when students really need me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help.  They don’t need me there in the room with them to yak at them and give them content; they can receive content on their own.”  (Sams 29)  They started recording their lectures using a screencast software called Camtasia and made the videos available for students to watch as homework.  Class time was utilized for students to conduct labs and work on content problems and activities while the teacher circulated among students offering guidance.  Bergmann and Sams later wrote a book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, in which they give readers details about the evolution of their flipped classroom, describe the flipped classroom models and steps they employed, and share their observations on how flipping their classroom has impacted student achievement.  “We had seen our students learning chemistry more deeply than ever before, and we were convinced.  Our method was changing students’ abilities to become self-directed learners.”  (Bergmann & Sams 42)


Executed thoughtfully, there are many benefits to flipping a classroom.  When students watch the content lecture on their own time they have the power to slow down or speed up the lecture to meet their individual learning needs.  They can rewind and review difficult or confusing concepts.  They come to class equipped with the foundation information necessary to engage in learning activities that incorporate the new information.  Students are not left to struggle with content application at home for homework without the benefit of the teacher nearby to answer questions or provide clarification.  Instead of using class time to lecture, the teacher can circulate through individual or small groups of students checking for understanding, guiding deeper thinking, answering questions, and addressing student needs on a more individualized level.  The teacher no longer assumes the role of dispenser of information, but instead becomes a facilitator of learning as students absorb and apply the content.  A flipped classroom model provides more in-class opportunities for teachers to individualize and differentiate instruction to meet a wide range of student needs.  Flipped classrooms can create more student-centered learning environments where the ownership of learning shifts from the teacher to the student.


There are, however, many who disagree with the flipped model of learning.  Critics argue that not all students have access to the technology necessary to view the lecture videos outside of class.  Videos often are hosted on YouTube or other similar video hosting sites that are blocked in many school environments.  And, let’s face it, students don’t always do their homework, often for legitimate reasons.  If students can’t view the lecture videos, how are they going to receive the content delivery?   Arguments are also made that “lecture” is not the most effective method of teaching, and opponents of homework in general are definitely not in the flipped classroom camp.


Like any other innovation in education, flipping the classroom is something that requires careful thought and planning.  It is not the answer to every problem schools today are facing.  It is merely an attempt to create more time during the class day for individualized instruction and to nurture a more student-centered learning environment.  It is a model that capitalizes on students’ innate interest in and facility with technology. There is no rule book or strict formula for schools or teachers to follow to implement a flipped learning model–teachers can use the bits and pieces that work for each unique situation.  As you are presented with increasingly more information buzz on the topic of flipped classrooms, the most important thing to keep in mind are the students.  Would your students benefit from a flipped classroom model?



If you are interested in learning more about flipping your classroom, please join us on February 20, 2013 for our Mastering the Flipped Classroom workshop (SP1325597).


Bergmann, Jonathan, and Aaron Sams. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2012.

Writing Across the Content Areas

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Susan Diaz, Education Specialist, Secondary ELAR


“If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and rework raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write.” –The College Board and the National Commission on Writing

I hear that students might be learning in classes other than just English/Language Arts!  Ergo, if this rumor is true, students need to write in ALL their subjects.  Still skeptical?  The Michigan Department of Education says… “Writing is used to initiate discussion, reinforce content and model the method of inquiry common to the field.  Writing can help students discover new knowledge–to sort through previous understandings, draw conclusions and uncover new ideas as they write.”  And in the report, “The Neglected R”, the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges argues that writing has been pushed to the side in the school reform movement over the past twenty years and must now receive the attention it deserves. The National Commission on Writing goes on to talk about how students have difficulty producing writing at the high levels of skill, maturity, and sophistication that is required in our complex, modern economy.  Basically, if we want our students to be college AND/OR career ready, they must be proficient writers.  The Commission’s solution to this dilemma?  Double the amount of writing by incorporating it in all content areas.

We’re not asking you to know the ins and outs of dangling participles or the STAAR rubric.  We’re talking about giving students the time to practice and hone their writing.  It’s kind of like driving a car or playing a sport—the more you do it, the better you get!

There are lots of easy ways to incorporate writing into your classrooms.  It could be as simple as an Entry Slip that asks them to summarize their homework reading or recall learning from yesterday’s class.   Giving students a few minutes to write at the beginning of class allows them to collect their thoughts and activate prior knowledge.  It also helps students see that learning is connected from day to day rather than a series of isolated events.  You can end class with an Exit Ticket asking students to write a letter to a classmate who was absent explaining what was learned that day or students can reflect on their participation in class for the day.  The Exit Slip helps students summarize their learning for the day and gives them closure.  The simple step of adding in Entry Slips and Exit Tickets to our lesson cycle can make a profound impact on student learning—it is the E in engage and the E in evaluate that frames our teaching and solidifies knowledge for kids.  Give it a try!

Strategic Note-Taking in Secondary Content Classrooms

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Tonia Miller,  Education Specialist, ESL Instructional Coach

Perhaps when many of us were in high school, or even college, we learned to take notes out of sheer necessity. We were lucky if the teacher paused for a moment to write a word or two on the chalk board. However, this is not the case for students in today’s classrooms. Luckily for them, 21st century learners have grown up in more student-centered environments, where oftentimes technology is used as an interactive tool for discovery learning. Given this, many students in secondary schools do not perceive note-taking skills as fundamental to their success in content area classes.


Why Should I Take Notes?

Contrary to student perception, research shows that note-taking skills are still necessary both to survive and excel in today’s classroom. Note-taking serves two very important functions for learners: 1) external storage of information, and 2) cognitive encoding of information (Boyle, 2011). While it is obvious to most students that note-taking is a way to keep record of important information they might forget, few students realize the power the act of writing notes has to jump-start the cognitive processing of information in their brains. While note-taking, students begin to learn and memorize content. Additionally, students will retain and recall more when notes are self-generated. Ultimately, the combination of both functions makes note-taking a critical component of successful learning. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on one researched-based strategy intended to be used during lectures: strategic note-taking (SN).


Strategic Note-Taking

The intention of strategic note-taking is to help students filter and organize incoming information during lectures so that it is converted into notes that can be comprehended and reviewed at a later time. The strategy also focuses on inciting students to mentally process and record information while listening. Strategic note-taking paper accompanies the strategy to prompt students to make notes through five main metacognitive cues: link prior knowledge, cluster main ideas, summarize like ideas, recognize key vocabulary, and review main lecture points (Boyle, 2011).

To help students remember all of the skills necessary for SN, the first letter mnemonic device CUES is used. See an abbreviated version of the SN paper and for a description of what students are doing at each step of CUES below:





Some of the findings of a study of SN show that, in contrast to students using traditional note-taking, students using strategic note-taking recorded more total lecture points as well as twice as many words, had greater long-term recall, and performed better on tests (Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2010).


How Do I Implement Strategic Note-Taking?

Students will need to be explicitly taught SN, just as they would any other new content-related skill.  Providing the student with a description of the strategy, in addition to why they are being asked to develop this skill, is a good place to start. See the following list for some teacher tips for implementation of strategic note-taking:

  • Prior to the lecture, make your own set of strategic notes as “model notes”.
  • Use your “model notes” during the lecture to stay on topic.
  • Stress important lecture content by repeating or restating.
  • Slow down the pace of the lesson.
  • Use purposeful pause procedures (e.g., a long pause should indicate students need to record what was just said).
  • Categorize or provide a title for an upcoming list of items.
  • Monitor students’ usage of the strategy.
  • Teach students to abbreviate.
  • Teach students to identify main points & summarize big ideas.
  • Provide emphasis cues (e.g., “It is important to remember that . . .).
  • Provide organization cues (e.g., “the four main types of a cloud are . . .).
  • Use nonverbal cues such as gestures to provide emphasis.
  • Write important notes & vocabulary on the board.
  • Provide students time at the end of class to review notes.
  • Allow students to compare their notes to the “model notes”.
  • Encourage students to share notes with a partner and fill in any missing information.
  • Evaluate students’ notes (self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment).
  • Gradually increase the pace of lecture as students become more competent.

(Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2011, & Boyle, 2010)


How do I Assess Students’ Note-Taking Skills?

Ongoing assessment of students’ note-taking skills is an important part of both skill development and learner accountability. Just as with academic skills, it is important to find individual student gaps in note-taking skills. The figure below depicts a form that has been used as a formative assessment of students’ note-taking skills as compared to teachers’  “model notes.”





The key to ongoing assessment of note-taking is to show students that it is a cyclical, reflective process intended to help develop metacognitive study skills so that they may effectively monitor their own learning.


How Do I Justify the Time Required to Teach Note-Taking?

Note-taking falls under the larger umbrella of study skills necessary for students to be successful learners, and techniques, like strategic note-taking, can be incorporated into content-area curriculum. Although teachers may feel pressed to primarily lecture in order to cover all necessary content, it is important to include other activities (i.e., hands-on activities, peer conversations and various other student demonstrations of understanding) to reinforce concepts from lectures. However, note-taking is a valuable skill that becomes essential for students as they take on greater responsibility for their own learning. Consequently, the time invested by teachers initially in teaching students note-taking skills pays off by propelling students towards the ultimate goal:  to be both college and career-ready citizens.

References (APA)

Boyle, J. R. (2012). Note-Taking and Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities: Challenges and Solutions. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(2), 90-101.

BOYLE, J. R. (2011). THINKING STRATEGICALLY TO RECORD NOTES IN CONTENT CLASSES. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 51-66.

Boyle, J. R. (2010). Strategic Note-Taking for Middle-School Students with Learning Disabilities in Science Classes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(2), 93-109.