Posts Tagged ‘Literacy’

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.

Increasing Science Literacy through Weekly Article Abstracts

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Grant Kessler, Ph.D. Education Specialist: STEM, Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Anna Wydeven, Science Specialist, Leander ISD

Stephen Marble, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, Southwestern University



Content area literacy is a hurdle to student attainment of science content knowledge and their ability to demonstrate learning. This article describes a pilot of a classroom-based intervention to help students overcome this obstacle. We call the approach “weekly article abstracts.” We describe the results of the pilot and share the approach, along with implementation tips, resources and references, for teachers who wish to implement weekly article abstracts in their science classrooms.



A colleague described her frustration to us: “No matter how much I do to make science content interesting and relevant, my students are failing accountability assessments!” With this concern as the catalyst for a discussion group, we heard a consistent theme from science teachers: “Students don’t seem to be ‘getting’ the literacy and expositive experiences that act as a speed bump to their science learning.” This anecdotal consensus resonates with our observations from classrooms across Texas. Analysis of assessment data frequently prescribes content-area literacy, not science content, as the most appropriate intervention for students to improve their science assessment outcomes. Students must be science literate–i.e., able to read and understand science writings and related diagrams, intelligently discuss complex contemporary issues, locate and synthesize valid information to inform decision-making, and utilize language to convey information—all of this as a foundation to build content-area knowledge and demonstrate learning (Texas Education Agency, 2009).

We probed science teachers about their experiences with literacy within the science class and found that the struggle can be attributed to the lack of adequate resources and training to help students tackle expository texts. For example, elementary language arts instruction is heavily grounded in fiction, which allows struggling readers to take advantage of plot direction as a guide. In contrast, these students often find themselves challenged to follow the expository nature of science texts.


Piloting an intervention

We wondered if there was a practical remedy to this situation. We imagined a high-impact, personalized, engaging process for teachers to use with students to develop science literacy. Consequently, we developed and implemented a strategy for 6th-8th grade students with the hypothesis that an increase in exposure to student-selected, science-related expository texts correlates with student growth in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (Martinez, 2008). We refer to this approach as “weekly article abstracts.”

Classrooms participating in the article abstract pilot were assigned to one of two conditions: weekly article abstracts or no article abstracts.  The backgrounds and performance levels of students within the conditions were comparable based on socio-economic status and prior benchmark performance.  At the conclusion of the pilot, the students from each condition were given a science reading passage and asked to take notes in the columns and answer assessment questions at the end of the reading. Student responses were coded to minimize bias, then assessed and analyzed by reading and science specialists.

The results of the pilot indicated that students exposed to the weekly article abstracts condition (N=138) showed statistically significant increases in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (p=0.001) as compared with students in the no abstracts condition (N=230).  Furthermore, teachers reported that the article abstracts provided a means for students to find relevant connections and engage with the science coursework.  Based on our positive experience with this process, we encourage its widespread adoption. The remainder of this article describes how to implement a weekly abstracts program in your classroom.


Science Abstracts 101


An article abstract is a weekly assignment that requires students to select, read and write a critique of a science-related article. Students bring their abstracts to class each Friday (or last day of instruction), where time is structured into the class period for students to dialogue about their learning and receive feedback about their work from peers. It is important to facilitate a learning-focused atmosphere for this weekly event and, as such, we highly recommend that abstracts be a required and ungraded learning opportunity. We have found it possible to structure these assignments so as to provide value without adding onerous incremental workload to the educator. It is useful to consider what science abstracts “are” and “are not” prior to adopting the process (Table 1).



Table 1. Abstracts “are” and “are not”


Implementing Science Abstracts

Introduce science abstracts by having students discuss the Dr. Suess quote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Facilitate the discussion to explore factors that drive academic success, including the quantity of personally selected free reading and levels of exposure to academic language through a variety of sources (Cullinan, 2000).

Next, in a manner that is consistent with Simon Sinek’s (2009) work on how great leaders inspire action, introduce article abstracts with students by sharing and developing “The Why” for science abstracts. We believe that weekly article abstracts provide a mechanism through which each student will grow in his or her ability to find relevance and ownership in classroom learning, critically consume information, intelligently discuss current events, utilize data to drive decision-making, and demonstrate learning on assessments.

Having set a purpose that article abstracts are a crucial opportunity for students, show students the InfoGraphic Poster (Figure 1) to help them understand how abstracts are implemented and what success looks like.


Infographic - Figure 1



Students select, cite and read a science-related article.

It is critical for students to search for and select their own articles because student choice is a key motivator to assignment completion and it drives ownership and engagement in the learning process (Thompson, 2009). Students, especially struggling readers, will need explicit instruction for how to locate and assess the quality of science sources. We successfully used the Planey & Hug (2012) “Source Quality Pyramid” activity with students, which is detailed in The Science Teacher, and can be accessed from:

We have found that some students–including those without consistent resources at home–will benefit from your support to schedule access to the library or use campus technology to access science sources.  Share the suggested source list (Figure 2) with students as a foundation for students to locate articles.


 SourceList - Figure 2


Also, while students choose their own articles, they may need periodic reminders to select articles from a variety of sources so that they can most efficiently increase their level of knowledge.  We quickly learned that students don’t already know how to cite sources, so it will be a good idea to explicitly teach students how to use tools such as “”


Article Summary

The next step in this procedure is to go over the abstract details from the InfoGraphic (Figure 1) and provide students with the “How to write an abstract” handout (Figure 3).


HowTo - Figure 3 


During the pilot, a number of students were initially apprehensive about reading and writing the abstracts summary because they didn’t have experience with academic science texts. To get over this initial hurdle, you might tell the students, “It is okay to pick a short article at first–just pick something that you understand.” Students were more comfortable reading and writing about articles they understood; their hesitance was really fear of not fully understanding the academic content. We found it particularly effective when students chose articles that mapped to their individual interests. For example, some students raise livestock, others were passionate about automobiles, quilting, and even dinosaurs. In each case, encouraging the student to select articles within their own interests helped to establish the relevance of science to their daily lives, and their enthusiasm soared. Work with the Language Arts department on your campus to align strategies and approaches to reading and writing reflectively.


Students may need coaching on how to write the summary. Frequently, students simply rearrange words to paraphrase the article directly rather than truly summarizing the article.  You can scaffold teaching this process based on student need, building from the following mini-lesson:

  1. Provide each student with a brief, low difficulty science article. Have students read the article, making notes in the margins. You might provide students with sample questions to support metacognition while reading, such as, “How does this compare with what I already know? How does this connect with me?” When students are finished reading, they put the articles away and take turns to explain what the article was about with a partner.
  2. Have students write a paragraph in summary of the article, based on the discussions.
  3. Explain to students that this learning experience represents the process for writing abstract summaries. Tell the students to “Read the article, put the article away, and then pretend you are talking to a friend as you write what it was about.”


Article Critique

The summary describes what the article is about; the critique is where students think critically about what they read and learned, reflecting on its impact to their lives. Here, we ask the students to consider the article’s strengths and weaknesses and to use evidence to support claims. The critique is an opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate their critical thinking skills.


While we have found that this portion of their product does not need much additional coaching, some students may need additional support. In order to differentiate for ability levels, you can provide students with an organizer as an accommodation for the process (Figure 4).


Accomodations - Figure 4 


Students share learning and receive peer feedback

An audience plays an important role in the abstract literacy process and gets students excited about sharing with (teaching) each other as experts each week. As you structure time into your class each week for students to share, remember to take a facilitator role. Assign students into groups of two and organize the time for each student to have time to assess the abstracts together with the InfoGraphic representation of the rubric (Figure 1).  Some teachers create a bulletin board to highlight the abstract of the week, with a QR code to the selected article.


Final Thoughts

Science content literacy has become an increasingly important part of how teachers support students to learn science. Weekly article abstracts are an unobtrusive and value-added way to integrate literacy into science classrooms. While students struggle with this process initially, they quickly improve with practice. In our article abstract pilot of 368 students, those who experienced weekly article abstracts showed significant gains in their abilities to read reflectively and apply metacognitive strategies, find relevance for science content, and intelligently discuss current events, demonstrating significant growth in content-area literacy overall.



Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library

Media Research, vol. 3.

Kearton V & McGregor D. (2010) What do researchers say about scientific literacy in schools? Education in Science. 240 22-23

Martinez, P. (2008) Impact of an integrated science and reading intervention (INSCIREAD) on bilingual students’ misconceptions, reading comprehension and transferability of strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University.

Planey, J. & Hug, B. (January 2012). Climbing the pyramid: Helping students evaluate science news sources. The Science Teacher, 79(1): 37-40.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) (2009). Texas college and career readiness standards (CCRS). Retrieved from:

Thomson, A. (2009). Reading: The Future – final report of the 2008 National Year of Reading. London, UK: The National Literacy Trust.

Let’s PLAY!

Monday, April 20th, 2015

AUTHOR: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator – Curriculum & Instruction

As adults, we long for the long weekend or holiday because we are eager for a brain break, a new adventure, or a chance to play in life. Play is our departure, our recreation, and sometimes our connection to the inner child or to memory lane. It is the opposite of what we consider work to be. As a result, we sometimes lose sight of the many benefits of play and how important these benefits are to our developing youth. Many of us feel happy when we see children playing; we may even recognize some general social and physical benefits. And yet some may question what they see when walking by a classroom full of 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old children who appear to simply be playing. Play is fun after all and classrooms are about working hard and learning. Still others may question the level of rigor or the relevance associated with this seemingly carefree whimsy and equate it with merely babysitting the students.


While there are many more notable quotes about play than the four below, these seem particularly noteworthy.

  • “Play is the work of the child.” Maria Montessori
  • “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein
  • “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung
  • “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” Erik H. Erikson


Though there is research demonstrating the importance of play, logical understanding of play, and pure admiration for it, there are still those who react as if play is not a significant part of child development which impacts so many areas.


Consider academic, emotional, social, and physical development. Each of these areas impacts the others and retains its own set of milestones, prerequisites, and skill sets. In play, students work on these areas simultaneously and, because each experience of play is unique, students continuously develop and learn. They do not need a lecture or a worksheet to develop these areas–they need experience.


We know that best practice for an effective learning environment includes the need for meaningful engagement with information as well as interactions that occur within the context of the children’s daily experiences and development. For young children, and it could be argued older children as well, this engagement occurs through play. The phrase “hands-on, mind-on” is often used to describe interactive learning experiences that connect movement and physical experience to mental and learning experience. This is exactly what play is and what play does.


To understand and use children’s natural capacity for play as an effective classroom tool, it is important to also consider the stages of play.

  • Solitary
    • infancy to toddler years
    • plays alone; limited interaction with other children
    • separate toys
  • Spectator/Onlooker
    • begins during toddler years
    • observes others but does not play with them
  • Parallel
    • toddler years
    • plays side by side; lack of group involvement
    • similar toys
  •  Associate
    • toddler through preschool years
    • plays with similar goals; no formal organization
    • rules not set; may play with similar toys; may trade toys
  •  Cooperative
    • late preschool years
    • organized by group goals
    • typically at least one leader


By understanding the developing areas of a child along with the stages of play, educators are able to carefully plan purposeful and intentional play-based experiences that support student development aligned to Prekindergarten objectives. Children will benefit from play whether the experience has had enhanced opportunities provided through an intentional planning process or not. As educators, we can intentionally plan for and provide those enhanced opportunities so that our students’ growth, development, and success is even more robust. This is the difference between learning that occurs in a classroom where students are simply playing and learning that occurs in a classroom where students are playing in an environment designed for the purpose of mastering learning objectives. It is important to maintain a balance between free play and purposeful play, remembering that each kind of play serves a positive purpose for students.


Next time you set your sights on a weekend of recreational play in your adult life, consider the skills and interactions you use as second-nature and without even realizing it. Don’t just concentrate on your “work” too much—you might just forget to have fun!




Children’s Health. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

Long Term English Language Learners

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Anna Briggs, ESL Education Specialist

As the number of English Language Learners in the U.S. continues to increase, we are learning that the fastest growing segment of this population in our secondary schools is comprised of Long -Term ELLs. These are students who have been in U.S. schools for more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be reclassified or exited from the ESL program. Long-Term ELLs are generally identified by the time they reach 6th grade, though recent research trends indicate that factors such as low literacy rates and below grade-level academic performance can predict Long-Term ELL status as early as 4th grade.


Identifying Characteristics

Key indicators can help school district teachers and administrators identify these students in order to better meet their linguistic and cognitive needs:

  • Orally bilingual (proficient in social English)
  • Limited literacy skills (read below grade level)
  • Lacking cognitive academic language (decreased use of academic vocabulary)
  • “Stuck” at Intermediate level of English proficiency (Intermediate TELPAS rating in Reading and Writing for two or more years)

In addition to the academic indicators above, it is important to note that a significant number of Long- Term ELLs were actually born here in the United States. Inconsistent schooling, transitions in and out of various Bilingual/ESL program models, and students’ relocating in and out of the U.S. correlate to gaps in education.From a social perspective, these students may oftentimes be perceived as failures because of their passivity and disengaged nature with academic content. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the social factors involved when students in grades 6-12 are linguistically lagging behind their native English-speaking peers.


Action Plan

With regard to the classroom, it is important that instruction for Long-Term ELLs (as well as all second language learners) be linguistically accommodated to meet the various proficiency levels of these students. Equally as important is the integration of increased opportunities for listening, speaking, reading, and writing in all content area classrooms.

Administrative support is critical to understanding and highlighting the needs of Long-Term ELLs. It is imperative to identify Long-Term ELLs as a group of students needing support. Administrators should consider a school-wide focus on study skills and literacy to bridge any fundamental gaps in learning and schooling. Additionally, administrators support a focus on the implementation of frequent data/progress monitoring discussions with both content area and ESL teachers as well as instructional leaders to address academic and linguistic needs. Finally, administrators must organize intensive Sheltered Instruction training and classroom support for any teacher of ELLs  as this is vital for fostering the language-rich environment that is needed for all students to perform successfully.



Menken, K and Kleyn, T. (2009). The Difficult Road for Long-Term English Learners. Educational Leadership, 66 (7).

Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners.

Reuse, Recycle: Word Clouds in the Classroom

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Dana Ellis, Educational Specialist: Instructional Coach

Teachers are naturally resourceful. With limited budgets, they have to be. A search engine query for educational projects using recycled materials will produce an abundance of links and images from preschool art projects to high school physics contraptions. Teacher ingenuity is not restricted to paper towel rolls and plastic water bottles. In the face of tightened technology budgets, teachers are wrestling with ways to repurpose free technology-based applications in order to maximize hands-on learning while reducing district expenditures and time spent learning implementation.  It is no surprise, therefore, that talented, imaginative educators have transformed digital word cloud generators into tools for use in highly engaging content lessons. What is astonishing, however, is just how diverse educational applications of this simple tool can be. Below are just a few of the ways educators are using this easy-to-learn technology in cross content classrooms.

  1. Revising Student Essays. Students copy and paste their essays into one of the word cloud generators, turning off the common words feature. Since the word cloud will enlarge words based on frequency, students can then analyze the larger words against their essays. Students revise essays to include more precision and variety in word usage, and to reduce undesirable redundancy. As a follow-up assessment, students repeat the exercise and compare the revised essay word clouds with the originals.
  1. Content Main Ideas. The teacher groups students and assigns a textbook section or content based mentor text for reading. Within the groups, students jigsaw the material into smaller portions of text. For each sub-section, individual students read and decide on the 5 most important words or concepts of that section. When the individual students come back together to discuss the entire text, student groups pare down the individual lists created to one compiled set of 3 main idea words that represent the entire text selection. After class discussion of the text, students select one final word from the list of three to represent the main idea of the material. Student groups enter all the words from each round into a word cloud generator. As culmination for a unit, students can use the word clouds to review unit themes and ideas or write a unit reflection of main ideas.
  1. Self-Assessment. As an anticipation guide, the teacher creates a word cloud of major lesson or unit concepts. At the conclusion of a lesson or unit, students write an explanation of the concepts covered in a paragraph or two. This writing is then copied and pasted into a word cloud generator, excluding common words in the advanced features. Students examine the resulting images while comparing and contrasting their word clouds to the anticipation visual.
  1. Plot Prediction. The teacher copies and pastes a literary text (or synopsis for longer works) into a word cloud generator to create a story cloud. Either prior to reading the piece or at a strategic point in the reading, students analyze the story cloud and make predictions about the story plot and/or characters. The teacher has students discuss their ideas in small groups, providing justification based on the visual provided.
  1. Vocabulary Review. In partners, students take turns reviewing content based vocabulary from a list of academic words or flashcards. If a student knows the word and can provide a correct definition, the student types the word into a word cloud generator once and sets the card aside (or places a checkmark beside it on a list). If the student is unable to provide correct information, the word is typed twice and the card is left in the pile (or word left unchecked). Students continue through the list back and forth until all words have been addressed for both students. Students may either generate the word cloud at this point, or continue in a second round, using the same format. The larger words in the word cloud will remind students which words or concepts require more review.
  1. Utilize Shapes to Reinforce Learning. Using one of the word cloud generators which allows the user to select the shape of the resulting image, create geometric anchor charts. The teacher assigns each group a geometric shape. Students create word lists explaining the characteristics of their assigned shape, associated formulas, and real-life examples of the shape. After the lists are complete, students select the corresponding shape for the image. The teacher can then print large versions of student work for the classroom and/or smaller versions for student notebooks.

These are just a few of hundreds of classroom applications for this tool. To see more, check the resources in the  reference section of this article. To experiment with some of the more popular generators and discover even more educational uses, visit the following websites:







Happy recycling!



Dunn, Jeff. “45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom. N.p., 15 July 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Gorman, Michael. “Word Clouds: 125 Ways… And Counting… To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 21 St Century Educational Technology and Learning. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Lepi, Katie. “5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom.” 5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom. Edudemic, 25 June 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Tafazoli, Dara. “Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language.” Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language. Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. p 53-58.

Increasing Written Literacy 

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Joseph Kanke, Instructional Coach

Education, as a system, is constantly undergoing changes and adapting to the needs of students.  One such need is to improve writing.  The response has been a campus-based push for increased writing opportunities referred to as Write to Learn, Writing Across the Curriculum or Writing in the Discipline.  While each term may not be used completely interchangeably, there is significant overlap.  For the purpose of this article, I will refer to this process of written literacy as Write to Learn.  Basically, Write to Learn means writing is occurring across disciplines and subjects.

Recent data shows students are not graduating high school with writing tools they need to be successful.  According to the Writing Next Report, 70% of students in grades 4-12 are considered low achieving writers and college instructors estimate that only 50% of high school graduates are prepared for college-level writing.

Everyone agrees that the more you read, the better reader you will become.  The results for writing are the same.  When students are given consistent and frequent writing practice, they will begin to see themselves as writers.  As they become better writers, they will have a platform to authentically engage with content and critical thinking skills will increase.  All of these skills will ensure that students are ready for academic and work related writing.

If you are on a campus that is considering the implementation of Write to Learn, there are two essential components you will want to address to make the program effective.  The first is that some teachers will feel unsure of their own writing abilities and thus—understandably—feel apprehensive about writing instruction.  They need to be assured that while providing immediate and specific feedback will be essential to writing growth, it does not necessarily need to focus on grammar.  The second key element is providing teachers with ample professional development.  Just as students need to develop a writer’s toolkit, teachers need access to a variety of authentic writing activities so they can choose what works best with their content.

Students need to be engaged in writing frequently and across subjects, content, and format to ensure adequate practice and exposure so that they are ready for college, careers, and life.

Here are two examples of writing strategies that could be implemented under the Write to Learn model.


Activity Implementation When to Use Grouping
Magnet Summaries
  1. After reading an article or finishing class notes, help students pick out the key word (concept being taught).  This will be their magnet word.
  2. Ask students to copy the magnet word in the center of a note card or page of their notebook.
  3. Tell students the magnet word acts like a magnet and pulls other key information that is important to the topic.
  4. Students should then pull key words from the article or notes and arrange them around the magnet word.
  5. Tell students to write a summary which includes the magnet word and some/all of the keywords.
  6. Since students will be so focused on including the keywords, their first summary may not flow smoothly.  Encourage students to edit a minimum of one time.

After reading an article.


After finishing class notes on a topic.



Individual to Pairs

Write 3, Draw 2
  1. Place no less than 8 papers with headings of your choice around the room. *
  2. Explain to students that you have posted key (vocabulary, dates, historical figures, equations, etc.) around the room that they should be familiar with.
  3. Tell them to move around the room and choose 3 of the pages and write, using complete sentences, something they know about that concept.
  4. Tell them to choose two additional concepts and draw a visual representation of something they know about it.

* Students are required to interact with 5 concepts, and by providing a minimum of 8, students will be given the element of choice.

  • Vocabulary
  • Equations
  • Historical Figures
  • Dates
  • Places
  • Parts of Whole (cells, plot, triangles)





Daniels, Harvey, Zemelman,S., & Steineke. N. (2007). Content-area writing:  Every teacher’s guide.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Graham, Steven & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next:  Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools.  New York, NY:  Carnegie.

Keifer, K., Lecourt, D., Reid, S., & Wyric, J. (2014, November 25). What is Writing to Learn? Retrieved February 4, 2015, from

Tweeting to Grow: Enriching Our Personal Learning Network through Twitter

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Laura Lee Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Tags: Educational Technology, Personal Learning Networks, Professional Development

“Teaching can be an isolating experience, but it does not have to be.” Kevin Hodgson

As educators, we must find avenues to nurture our professional lives despite the chaos prevalent surrounding education. The success of our students depends on it. Recently, teacher and author Kelly Gallagher affirmed for me the necessity of teachers’ sustained personal learning outside school walls. He shared, “If our professional life isn’t bigger than our teaching life, we will die on the vine.” Mr. Gallagher went on to add that growing a professional life provides the environments of support, collaboration, and empowerment teachers need to thrive.

Our access to technology provides valuable resources for teacher learners at the click of the mouse, even the swipe of a thumb. In fact, Mr. Gallagher attributes a recent spike in his professional learning to participation in the “Twitterverse” saying that Twitter has magnified his learning more than any other form of traditional professional development in recent memory. Yes, Twitter is more than a real time account of Justin Bieber’s bad hair day. In full disclosure, my Twitter account is over seven years old and my use is very basic. In preparation for writing this article, I sought to increase my understanding and find out how I can assist interested educators in doing the same.

I began by “tweeting” the question: “Need short testimonials on how twitter has enhanced educators’ professional learning” to the Twittersphere at large and to researchers and writers on English Language Arts education in particular. Within minutes responses filtered in via email, direct message and tweets. Every response I received echoed a connected impact on its users. Kevin Hodgson, 6th grade teacher, blogger, and Technology Co-Director at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, weighed in via direct message: “Twitter has connected me to not just people, but ideas, from the far corners of the world. Questions, answers and inquiry abound, and I have felt my thinking on teaching and learning being pushed again and again.” The speed and content of the responses to a simple query showcase the power of Twitter. As I googled “how educators use Twitter,” I was inspired by the results. Teachers have contributed quality how-to guides very helpful for both the novice and the evolving seeker. I have included below an annotated bibliography of the resources I found most insightful.

Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This website makes a clear case for why teachers and educators should use Twitter. Three reasons for using Twitter are highlighted: 1. Twitter is easy to learn and free with a user friendly interface. 2. Twitter is dense with innovative educators and a prime place to meet and collaborate within. 3. It is a vehicle to grow professionally through the sharing of experiences. Included on this page is the best, simple guide to understanding Twitter for educators I discovered through my research. (The guide is linked other places around the web.)

Twitter For Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This guide begins by acknowledging common barriers to participation in Twitter for educators. In this near one-pager, you will gather information about the 5 W’s of Twitter’s specific use in education. Void of complete information and extra logistics available in other resources, this guide includes a downloadable pdf for printing should you need a hard copy.

Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). How To Take Part in or Moderate a Chat on Twitter. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Known as the Cybraryman and Twitterbrarian, Jerry Blumengarten offers this admonishment: “When introducing Twitter to non-believers say, “Do you know about “The Educational Support & Discussion Media System?” Following is one of the most comprehensive gathering of all things Twitter. The page is well organized with two columns but look to the right to find sites to help those new to Twitter.

If you are completely new to Twitter, a fast guide for beginning:

  1. Decide to have a professional account that is separate from your personal one. This helps organize and sort the information you will receive.
  2. Choose a twitter handle that is short and descriptive. Lots of educators choose to incorporate the name their students use so that they are easily recognizable to parents and students.
  3. Begin by following the organization and names that motivate and educate you. NCTE, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Jeff Anderson, and others are all active Twitter users. By following a few people, you will read the people they tweet to and can selectively choose who to add to your followed list.
  4. Check in every couple of days to see what’s new. You will be surprised how these 140-character tweets will inform your teaching. Instant PD!
  5. Study others’ content and language. Set a goal for sending out your own original tweets.
  6. Begin to share your handle as you begin to compose your own tweets. Twitter is not just about receiving information, it’s about giving it. Share your knowledge with the world.
  7. Check out Twitter chats that align with your professional interest. The chat sessions are an easy way to connect through listening to others weigh in about specific areas in selected content areas or grade levels.

Personal learning networks are powerful because they are driven by you; the learner. Kerri Thompson @kerriattamate describes her interactions on Twitter as “brewing my own PD.” On Twitter customized learning is as simple as plugging into a chat that explores the nuances of providing feedback on student writing or using literacy stations in a secondary classroom. Twitter allows educators to connect. Penny Kittle @pennykittle explained how Twitter also connects and extends resources:  I read many articles and blogs I’d never find on my own because of teachers on Twitter. I connect across the globe with colleagues. With precious little time left in our days, technology is a precious vehicle for educators to grow our professional lives.

The Region 13 Literacy Team is on Twitter. Follow me, Laura Lee, at @LL_Smiles and Janet Hester at @R13JanetH.


Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). How To Take Part in or Moderate a Chat on Twitter. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Hodgson, K. (n.d.). Inviting Your Input and Comments. Retrieved February 6, 2015, from

January Blog Challenge #7. (2015, January 7). Retrieved January 12, 2015, from

Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Twitter For Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Making a Case for Information Literacy

Friday, November 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

 ELAR Research Strand

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

ELAR Figure 19

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

establish a purpose for reading,

ask questions of the text,

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

make inferences and support with text evidence,

summarize, and

monitor and adjust comprehension.

 Social Studies Process Standards

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

Science Process Standards

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

Mathematics Process Standards

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

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

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



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

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

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

Something to Ponder: Letter of the Week

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author(s): School Ready Team

While there is universal agreement that the ability to identify letters and sounds is essential for reading success, educators differ in the way they teach these skills.  A common approach is “Letter of the Week.” This method generally involves introducing one letter per week through several whole group lessons. Children sing songs, read books, make crafts, and/or generate a list of things that start with the focus letter.

Though Letter of the Week (LOTW) has been used for many years and is even integrated into some state-adopted PreK curriculums, research suggests there are more effective ways to teach letters.

Reasons to Re-Think “Letter of the Week”

1.  LOTW is not rigorous enough for all students. Children in your class have different levels of letter knowledge. LOTW requires some students to spend instructional time focusing on letters they have already mastered and causes other students to forget letters they learned in past weeks (Fountas & Pinnel, 2011).

2.  LOTW does not capitalize on a child’s intrinsic motivation to first learn the letters that are most important to her- such as the letters in her name, letters in the names of family members and friends, and letters needed to describe a picture she has drawn (Justice, Pence, Bowles & Wiggins, 2006).

3.  LOTW does not teach letters in a way that makes sense to young children. Though many prekindergarteners enthusiastically participate in LOTW activities, letters presented in isolation are an abstract concept. Research demonstrates that children must develop letter knowledge “in coordination and interaction with meaningful experiences” (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp 2000).

Using a narrow “letter of the week” focus suggests that the most effective way for children to learn letters is in isolation (one at a time) and/or in sequence (ABC order).   Children learn most effectively by interacting with letters in context – recognizing and writing their names and names of classmates, reading environmental print, using labeled signs and systems in the classroom, composing writing as a class, pretending to read and write in center activities, singing alphabet songs, and playing letter games. Teaching letters in this way helps children become more competent, successful readers, especially later in elementary school when students must read to learn.



Justice L.M., Pence K., Bowles R., & Wiggins A. K., 2006. “An Investigation of Four Hypotheses Concerning the Order by Which 4-Year-Old Children Learn Alphabet Letters.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 21(3): 374-89.

Neuman, S., Copple, C., and Bredekamp, S.  (2000) Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children.  NAEYC press:  Washington, D.C.

Pinnel, Gay Su and Fountas, Irene C. (2011). Literacy Beginnings:  A prekindergarten handbook.  Heinemann: Porstmouth, NH.