Sunday, October 27, 2013

Are You Ready?

Connect hosted a wonderful opportunity yesterday for K-12 educators, college educators, and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education educators to participate in collaborative conversations around readiness for college and the transition to new large-scale assessments. Everyone had many opportunities to learn from others.

One important thing that I learned was that the future assessment will ask students to write in all three modes - argument, informative,  narrative in every grade. One comment at my table was that you will no longer be able to teach to the test. You will have to teach to the standards. Our group agreed that this would be a real improvement.

As recently as last month, I have worked with some teachers who are not using the standards in daily planning. One reason for having the standards for three years prior to the testing changes, is so that teachers may become familiar with the standards and how they inform daily work and so that students may begin to acquire the depth of knowledge and practice that the standards present.

Wherever you and your students are on the continuum of standards learning, there are some helpful resources that you will want to access or check regularly.

Engage NY.  This site has a video library for ELA, Math, teacher effectiveness, data-driven instruction and parents. It is updated periodically.

The Teaching Channel.  You may sign up for regular updates. This site contains a large video library providing examples of real teachers working with the common core state standards. It is updated all the time and also provides some resources associated with some of the videos. They are concise and well done.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC)   This is the official site of the consortium that is developing the assessments. It provides a wealth of information including prototypes test items. You may sign up for updates.

Model Curriculum Project  At this site you may sign up to download curriculum units that were developed by teams of teachers across the state. These units are available to all. There are units in four content areas - ELA, Math, History/SS, and Science. There are currently sixty-six and thirty-four more are being prepared. You may sign in as many times as you like.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer Website Suggestions

This excerpt from a recent Marshall Memo (available at was too good not to pass along. Some summer days will invariably tempt kids to turn to the Internet for stimulation. The following will provide you, and perhaps your students' families, with some good suggestions. Enjoy!


Summer Websites for Students

(Originally titled “How to Stimulate Summer Learning”)

            In this Education Update article, Willona Sloan suggests twelve engaging educational websites to keep students learning through the dog days of summer:

            • Art Games: - Students can design their own abstract paintings online, learn about pioneering artists, and explore painting techniques.

            • Great Websites for Kids: - Dozens of recommendations for exemplary websites for students up to age 14, curated by members of the Association of Library Service to Children.

            • NGA Kids: - The National Gallery of Art website features the Photo Op program, which allows kids to use a virtual camera to take pictures and experiment with photo-editing tools; they can also create virtual paintings, assemble collages, and explore art history.

            • National Geographic Kids: and National Geographic Education: - Photographs and videos of animals and natural environments, links to encyclopedia resources, craft ideas, puzzles, and quizzes.

            • Oxford Owl: - More than 250 free e-books, and kids can print, illustrate, and construct their own picture books, play games to test their comprehension, and do math activities.

            • Pass the Plate: - Nutritious recipes from all over the world.

            • PBS Kids: - Videos from Word Girl, Arthur, and The Electric Company, and places to create comic strips, create and mix global beats, test-drive a space flyer, and do an experiment in the Inventor’s Workshop.

            • Science NetLinks: - The American Association for the Advancement of Science has interactive games, podcasts, information on the inner workings of the body, and science news written by young readers.

            • Kids: - The WebRangers game simulates being a national park ranger, and students can practice cryptology and code breaking, explore the 50 states, discover health careers, learn tips for saving money, and listen to stories from Peace Corps volunteers.

            • Wonderopolis: - Each day, this site explains a new “wonder” of daily life, for example, how to create harmony, why zebras have stripes, and where buffalo roam.

            • Word Mover: Available free through iTunes – Kids can create “found poetry” by choosing from word banks and remixing famous works.

            • iWASWondering: - Inspired by the middle-school biography series, Women’s Adventures in Science, this site has brief biographical information and interactive games, including a virtual telescope.


“How to Stimulate Summer Learning” by Willona Sloan in Education Update, June 2013 (Vol. 55, 36, p. 1, 6-7),

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Collaboration Among All Teachers of Second Language Learners

Recently I participated in the three-day professional development workshop series to support teachers and administrators that are working toward full use of the World Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) structure. This is the structure that Massachusetts has adopted to strengthen second language learner instruction across the state, align instruction of second language learners with the 2011 Curriculum Framework in ELA and Literacy, as well as Math, Science, Social Studies, and provide a strong basis for collaboration among teachers who shelter content (commonly referred to as ELL teachers) and regular education/content-area teachers.

Many district administrators have been asking for guidance on ways to integrate the WIDA Standards into their curriculum maps. This is a very reasonable request and the workshop series was a way of providing that guidance. The WIDA booklet called, 2012 Amplification of The English Language Development Standards, Kindergarten - Grade 12, (available for free download or spiral-bound purchase at was a strong reference point for our work. In addition, there are supports for introducing, understanding, and using the book with educators, at the site.  Integration of the WIDA standards, features of academic language, and understanding and use of performance indicators (models of these are provided in the book for all content areas and in all grades levels) occurs at the unit and lesson planning/implementation levels. However, in the same way that reading standards 1 and 10 are expected to support and be part of all units and lessons, WIDA Standard 2, the Language of Language Arts, would support and be part of every literacy unit and lesson. Thus, the global reference to standard 2 would appear across the year-long timeline of a curriculum map and specific features of language development and assessment would appear as part of unit and lesson development.

Much of the work we are currently implementing challenges us to collaborate on many levels. Integration of WIDA standards/structures is another exciting opportunity for collaboration among education professionals at the local level. Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, we met with Urban Literacy Leaders from across the state each month. Three of the meetings were built around ELL-ELA collaborative work. At our last meeting, several districts showed the work that they were doing to incorporate WIDA structures into unit development and lesson instruction.

One of the hardest ideas to understand well and incorporate into daily work with students is, that although a student may have little language, particularly productive language in English, that student may be very knowledgeable, have ample background, and be capable of creative problem-solving in certain content. All students are entitled to work with content at high levels of engagement. How we provide supports and what we require for demonstration of learning outcomes will change based on language proficiency. In the past we may have confused lack of language with lack of knowledge or understanding. These are areas that are difficult but not impossible to reconcile and they are a big piece of the regular educator's work with English learners. The performance indicators are a huge help in supporting our thinking about providing choices and supports for students as they develop language capacities. However, among the important ideas presented, the idea of ELL teachers and regular education teachers collaborating in support of all students learning at optimal levels is the most important. Our second language students are the responsibility of all of their teachers. All of our work contributes to every student's successes.

In addition to the Amplification Booklet mentioned earlier, there are two publications that have informed my thinking:
  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Rothenberg, C. (2008). Content-area conversations: How to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse language learners. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
  • Zwiers, J., & Crawford, M. (2011). Academic conversations:Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Portland, ME. Stenhouse Publishers.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Finding Dulcinea calls itself, "Librarian of the Internet". I receive daily notes on what has happened in history on "this day". Today, they sent me a notice of websites to help young students find information about countries and about all of the states. The link for finding out about countries is . At this site there is a list of web addresses and their contents. From there, you may also connect with the site that provides many web addresses for finding information on our states.

As teachers use the Internet and digital resources more and more routinely with students, I think this clearing house can be a valuable resource. Please share it with teacher colleagues, school and public librarians, and families. Below is an excerpt from the site. I think it demonstrates what a wealth of information is there.

Click on a product name below to check out our free products that
help educators teach students how to use the Web effectively:

School Librarians | Social Studies | Ten Steps to Better Web Research

SweetSearch | SweetSearch4Me | SweetSearch2Day |

findingDulcinea | encontrandoDulcinea | findingEducation

Monday, May 13, 2013

Summer Reading: Changing It Up

Summer reading is more important than ever - at this time, for struggling readers, for disadvantaged children.

As we gear up for the increased challenges of complex text and writing from sources, summer is the perfect time to provide the added practice that many researchers are telling us that our students may need. Summer has the possibility to build stamina and increase fluency, or not.

We all agree that any student who is struggling with fluency or requisite knowledge for grade level learning will benefit from reading over the summer. Without that reading, students will actually lose ground that they simply cannot afford.

Allington and McGill-Franzen, in a 2010 study have identified the striking relationship between low income and summer setback. They indicate in a recent Reading Today article that "80% of the rich/poor achievement gap comes from summer setback". This is a call to action!

In the same article they outline a plan to provide students with books for summer reading. They estimate the cost to be about $50 for each student and suggest that younger students (grades 1-4) will need from 12 to 15 books and older students will need 5-6 books. They identify some key elements that seem to make sense. The key elements include students choosing their own books and adults setting up some sort of activities with the individual children for following up on the book reading. Choice and collaboration are two very important ingredients in motivation and engagement. They have written a book that is available from Teachers College Press at

When I worked as a Principal, I provided a book for every student at every grade level based on teacher recommendation. Clearly that is not enough. If I were a school leader now, I would enlist help through the businesses in the community and parent organizations to provide the suggested number of book choices for disadvantaged students. To that end, our local reading council is hoping to set up a scholarship fund to allow teachers to follow this plan.

In our family, the kids read all the time and sometimes the required summer reading is still a chore, saved until the last minute and completed under duress. Clearly, if even avid readers are put off by required summer reading, our summer reading programs need an overhaul. I think that some amount of choice in the materials and an engaging follow up that could include lively facilitated discussion could be a start.

Here are some suggestions and resources that may help.

Once a week, for nine weeks, over the summer, students read the New York Times online and write a short (350 words or fewer) response to an article of their choice. They enter the response in the contest once a week (nine times) and they also save their responses in a Word document that they submit on the first day of school. They could also post their responses to a local blog.

2. Each faculty member (not just English teachers) picks a book. The students are provided with a list of books from which to choose. On “summer reading day,” students go to the room selected for the book they chose. The teacher selects the assessment for their book—essay, m-c, poster, PP, discussion with rubric, etc.

3. Have the whole school read one book and have the author come in to speak at an assembly early in the year (or Skype with him/her). Assignments could include writing questions for the author.

4. Malden provides a list of books with a similar theme (mostly YA lit.) and has students write about whatever book they chose and how it relates to their own lives.

· Brookline Public Schools Summer Reading List, 2012.

This is an extensive annotated list of titles compiled by librarians in the Brookline (MA) Public Schools and arranged by grade levels (Pk-8) and genres.

· International Reading Association: Children’s Choices and Teachers’ Choices. :

Every fall, IRA publishes an annotated list of favorite books voted on by children and by teachers. This website contains the published book lists from 1998-2013. Books are arranged by grade levels.

· Children’s Book Council:

This site includes several different book lists published by various organizations, such as IRA, National Science Teachers Association, and National Council for the Social Studies. It is especially helpful to locate books for students who prefer nonfiction.

This site contains a variety of book lists for children, including a list of classics from the Horn Book. -- multiple lists, including from IRA, Boston P.S. and more.
Later, I plan to post the article at  If anyone has any additional creative ideas for summer reading, we would love to hear about them and share them with others who are interested. Send ideas to

Allington, R. L. & McGill-Franzen, A. (2013). Eliminating summer reading setback: How can we close the rich/poor reading achievement gap. Reading Today, 30(5), 10-11.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing: A Star is Born

Writing has taken a starring role in the newest edition of the Partnership for the Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) resources called the Model Content Frameworks 2.0. You may access the resources at and, in the latest online documents, you may search exclusively for each grade level as a separate tool.

What is highlighted for daily practice is routine writing. In the past, writing as a learning tool (taking notes, keeping a science notebook etc.) tended to be sidelined in favor of writing to demonstrate learning or communicate (essays, letters, reports etc.). Researchers like Steve Graham emphasize the importance of teaching students how to use writing as a tool for remembering and synthesizing information. In addition, routine writing supports the writing fluency that learners need to be facile with handwriting/typing that aids in the ability to get your thoughts and ideas out fluidly.

Writing is an essential ingredient in the implementation of the 2011 Curriculum Framework. It is integrated with reading, research, and speaking/listening. The writing called for by the standards requires that students have a flexible understanding of how to analyze, summarize, and synthesize knowledge accrued from reading, listening to classmates, stating and defending their own thoughts, and putting additional information with a first or anchor text. What are some of those skills; what is some of the knowledge needed to be successful?

Summarizing texts requires understanding that the author had a purpose and reading the text to demonstrate what those purposes are. Students need many models of annotated text and practice annotating themselves as well as knowledge of how best to record and keep notes for various purposes. Writing about the text deepens the understanding the reader has. Recording notes helps students practice putting important ideas into their own words.

Models of specific texts are helpful as ways for students to deconstruct the elements of various genre.
Students may also be given opportunities to imitate elements such as structure, style, or language. examining text closely improves both reading and writing. It is important to remind students to read as if they are authors and to write with an audience in mind.

Writing can be used a s a tool to analyze and critique texts. Students learn from separating the parts of a text, making connections and interpretations throughout the text, connecting problems with solutions and causes with effects. Teacher questions that send students back into the text to search for such ideas promotes student critical thinking, increasing the building of knowledge. Students link prior knowledge and ideas from other texts on the topic to the propositions in the text being examined. This kind of thinking supports development of argument skills - claims and logical reasoning.

Synthesizing information from several texts builds even greater knowledge and challenges students to make sense of differing ideas. Research requires making choices among texts for those most relevant - a very important skill in itself. Additionally, students need to learn how to organize the information they collect, put it together in a coherent thesis, all while avoiding plagiarism.

Writing is a wonderful star that brings together the biggest standard shifts - increase complexity, build knowledge, and value evidence. Writers become more proficient readers, writers, and speakers. Writing brings it all together.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Preparation Not Homework

All of us work hard every day. If the work is authentic it is engaging and motivates us to persist. If not, the hours drag on and classic burn out symptoms occur.

More of the same in the form of homework just adds to the frustration and fatigue. What to do?

First of all, turn to the standards. They are asking teachers to teach students to prepare "...for a range of conversations and collaborations..." (Speaking and Listening Standard 1). This standard opens the door to many authentic opportunities for real preparation for the next day's work.

While we are thinking in that vane, banish the term! No one likes it; it has a terrible reputation, probably deserved in some circles. By referring to preparation and making it truly necessary for participation in the following day's instructional activities, we reinvent tasks, making them vital to the work of the community.

The standards require that we teach students " ask and answer questions" (Reading Standard 1). All of us prefer choice and creativity. Human learners are goal-oriented. Reading a chapter of something that will be discussed the next day and preparing comments and a questions to bring to the discourse is important and creative work.

The standards require that students write routinely for a variety of tasks (Writing Standard 10). Researching an Internet site and culling a couple of important ideas from it to add to the knowledge of a small group project, means that my peers are depending on me for that contribution. Adding to a Voicethread or Blog in support of group work or written communication provides the reflection time that students often don't experience in a hectic school day.

Experiments that do not need complicated materials but may involve close observation and reporting engage the learner in real and independent learning; "Conduct short research projects..." (Writing Standard 7). The 2011 standards provide many opportunities to reinvent the work we do with students in the classroom as well as outside of it.

Action research: try this idea out between now and the end of the school year. Make it preparation, not homework. Make it real by truly making it count for the next day's work. Make it creative, provide some choices, make it something that is really better accomplished outside of the school day. When I reinvented homework in this way, it made my life and my students lives happier and far more productive.

By the way, this is not an April Fools' Day prank!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

February is Digital Learning Month

The 2011 Standards put a greater emphasis on the routine use of digital media at all levels. Below is an announcement from the Governor including a number of interesting events and activities that are happening this month. Enjoy exploring them and maybe involving your students.
The Patrick-Murray Administration has proclaimed February 2013 to be Digital Learning Month in recognition of the important role that digital technology can play in improving teaching and learning.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national policy and advocacy group headed by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, digital learning is "any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student's learning experience." During February, Massachusetts educators will have the opportunity to follow and participate in a number of local and national activities that are intended to promote awareness for digital learning and encourage the sharing of exemplary digital learning practices to inform state, district, and school leaders.

"Digital learning is playing an ever increasing role in our students' lives," said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. "When done right, the use of technology in schools will improve teaching and learning, make content more accessible, and ensure that all students are prepared for success beyond high school."

"Massachusetts is a national leader in the innovation economy, and digital learning has the potential to provide new ways to offer students personalized instruction and prepare them for college, career, and life," said Education Secretary Matthew Malone.

To help catalog and share exemplary digital learning practices, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is encouraging Massachusetts school leaders and educators to submit short videos or other digital media to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The Alliance is the sponsor of Digital Learning Day 2013, a national celebration on February 6 of successful instructional technology practice in classrooms nationwide. To submit a narrative or video, schools may visit the Alliance's website at

Among the activities happening in February 2013 are:

  • February 1-2: The "Across Boundaries: Innovation & the Future Education" conference sponsored by LearnLaunch and MIT will promote dialogue about the impact of digital learning on the future of K-20 education in the United States. The conference will bring together educators, entrepreneurs, and business community leaders to showcase the potential of new technologies to excite and engage students, and improve learning outcomes at every stage of the educational spectrum, from pre-K to postsecondary education, and ongoing workforce training.

  • February 6: The centerpiece of this year's national Digital Learning Day will be a Digital Town Hall that will be simulcast from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. To Town Hall will take place from 1 to 2 p.m.; to watch the event live, go to To learn more about how students, parents, educators, and others can participate in Digital Learning Day activities, go to

  • February 7: Nationally recognized experts will participate in a panel discussion on virtual and blended learning held at the Omni Parker House in Boston. The event sponsored by the Pioneer Institute will include local panelists Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Marty Walz to discuss the implications of virtual schooling in the Commonwealth. For more information on the event, go to

  • February 19: The Museum of Science in Boston will host a workshop for teachers on the use of animation software. The software developed by Tufts University provides more flexible and creative ways to engage students in science, math, and engineering explorations.

To learn about additional local activities in February, visit the Department's Office of Digital Learning page at