Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol

The official SIOP website says that the "Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model is a research-based and validated instructional model that has proven effective in addressing the academic needs of English learners..." but 
I learned while an ESL teacher that what worked for English Learners also worked for native English speakers.

Implementing the full SIOP Model is a big task that requires training and professional development. I'm suggesting that you look the website over, and try some of the lesson plans and activities provided FREE. Even if you don't have English Learners in your class, you most likely have students who can benefit from the Comprehensible Input, Strategies, Interaction, and Lesson Delivery, as well as the Review & Assessment included in the model.

The lessons shared range from early childhood to Adult/GED, and as you look through them, you will see that careful planning and scaffolding are two of the most important features. The same, of course, is true of any lesson, for every level of students in every content area!

I think you'll enjoy looking these lesson ideas over to see what you can use. You can read more about the protocol and find answers to questions about it here

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013

The world has lost a great warrior in the quest for freedom and justice. Please don't let this moment go by without engaging your students in reading, researching, discussing, and writing about "Madiba" - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

I linked to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in a post last July about the book Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Today I'm adding resources that offer retrospectives on his life and work, some of which include lesson plans.

A lesson plan from PBS: Remembering Nelson Mandela

From the New York Times: The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013, a collection of resources that includes
  • an illustrated timeline of his life
  • a slide show
  • images of the anti-apartheid struggle in posters from 1967 - 1994
  • memories of Mandela
  • his major speeches
  • his obituary
  • reactions from public figures and NY Times readers
Freedom Fighters, a lesson plan comparing the work of Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Readworks Revisited

I've written before about the amazing ReadWorks.org website, and I have to share today that they've just added 100 new passages. As you can see above, these include fiction and original reporting, in addition to science and social studies. The passages are identified by grade level and lexile. 

This fabulous site also provides Skill and Strategy Units, Novel Units, and so much more! I could go on and on, but I'd prefer that you check it out for yourself. I guarantee that you will find it hard to believe that all of this is FREE!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Common Core Poetry Exemplars

I have good news from the Poetry Foundation! This great group has collected almost 50 of the poems that are listed in Appendix B of the CCSS, and they are available to you FREE. Links to the poems are found in the October 28 article Common Core State Standards Text Exemplars on the foundation's website. And while you're there, be sure to check out some of the MANY other resources available. 

Let's say you decide to read Carl Sandburg's "Fog" with your 4th grade class. By clicking the Related Content tab above the poem, you'll find

  • a biography of the poet
  • links to 34 of his other poems
  • links to 15 audio and podcasts of his poetry
  • two archival recordings of Sandburg, from the mid 1900s
 And that's just one of the poems on this website. Hustle on over and start finding great resources you can use with your own kiddos!

Update: Last August I wrote about the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's webpage that listed free, online sources for the CCSS text exemplars that are public domain. Unfortunately, that document has been taken down, so I deleted the post from the blog. I hope this one helps with your poetry lessons!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Foldables FoldiFun Factory, by blogger Mor Zrihen

A quick heads-up to all of you who use and love foldables (and those of you who soon will!) Mor Zrihen, a teacher in south Florida, blogs over at A Teacher's TreasureShe shares her own collection at the Foldables FoldiFun Factory tab on her blog. 

Giving credit to Dinah Zike, who holds the registered trademark for foldables, Mor describes them as "interactive 3D graphic organizers (that) encourage student ownership of study material, provide a kinesthetic component to teaching strategies, and promote long-term retention of academic lessons." 

Below are just a few pics of Mor's cool ideas:




Click on over and see what you can use, offered FREE from this great blogger!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Common Core Writing? Help is Here!

A truly amazing Common Core resource was just released this summer! 

Achieve the Core now offers on its website a FREE book - the 686 page In Common: Effective Writing for All Students Collection of All Student Work Samples, K-12, by The Vermont Writing Collaborative, with Student Achievement Partners and CCSSO. It is a PDF document that you can download and print. Before you think, "PRINT 686 pages?!" remember that no one will need to print the entire document. Instead, you can pick and choose the parts that you need, and print them as you need them.

If you teach ELA, I believe you'll find it invaluable. Check out the Table of Contents:

Dr. Jim Patterson, a lead writer of the ELA/Literacy Common Core State Standards, says that while CCSS Appendix C "sought to illustrate by example what it meant to say that a given piece of writing met the Standards, the included works had not been written expressly to the Standards. In Common advances the work begun in Appendix C."

Joanna Hawkins and Diana Leddy led the effort to complete this project and make it available to teachers across the nation. Patterson explains its value in several ways:

  • It has more than twice as many samples as Appendix C, all "planned, drafted, revised, edited, and published by students working over extended periods of time."
  • It is the result of "an intriguing real-world 'experiment' in on-demand writing."
  • The writers "crafted grade-specific argument, informative/explanatory, and narrative writing prompts...based on source texts and intended to elicit student samples written to nearly uniform tasks across broad grade bands." 
  • The result is "a stepwise progression of ever-more-sophisticated writing samples with a common baseline."
The switch to the CCSS is huge by anyone's standards, and resources like this one should help to make the transition easier for everyone who teaches writing. I hope it helps you!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Booklists for the Common Core from Reading Rockets

Almost a year ago, I wrote about the many resources available from Reading Rockets, the national multimedia literacy initiative of WETA's Learning Media

With the current transition to Common Core State Standards, one of the most useful resources for those of you who teach K-4 is their Themed Booklists. As you create your CCSS ELA units, you will be searching for stories and informational text that you can sequence appropriately for your kiddos. 

And while your reading textbooks will provide a starting point, you will need to search out other quality texts, a daunting task to accomplish on your own! The 150+ booklists found on the Reading Rockets site can help. Below is just a sampling of booklists you'll find there.

Every list I previewed consisted of ten books, with a nice mix of fiction and informational text. Check it out - just another awesome FREE resource from this great site. And while you're there look at what else Reading Rockets offers! 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Common Core Resources for ELLs at Colorín Colorado

I have great news for anyone who teaches English Learners, via Lesli A. Maxwell at Education Week. In a blog post yesterday, she reported that Colorín Colorado has added a wonderful new CCSS resource for teachers of ELLs. Lesli had previously reported about the work that Albuquerque, N. M., teachers were doing to "ensure that the district's large number of English-learners would not be left to languish under the more demanding requirements of the common core." Now she reports that "anyone can see the full lesson plans those teachers created, videos of them teaching in the classroom, and interviews of them talking about how it worked." Lessons created by teachers, for teachers? Bravo!

And another "Bravo!" to Colorín Colorado. As an ESL teacher I consulted this amazing website often, and it's no surprise that these resources are now available here. In addition to the work done by the Albuquerque teachers, you'll find information for teachers who "might be trying to figure out what their role in supporting students and content teachers should be in the common-core era" as well as parent resources.

Hurry over and see what you can use, and enjoy the work of teachers who are willing to share - the BEST kind! 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Listen and Read: Read-Along Books from Scholastic

I love Scholastic for many reasons; the newest is their Listen and Read site, where they provide 54 FREE nonfiction read-along ebooks for primary students. Your kiddos can access them on a computer or tablet, or you can use them with a group on an interactive whiteboard. They are sorted by subject and by level, with a good mix of science and social studies topics.

So why is it called Listen and Read? Because each of the ebooks is also an audiobook - by clicking on a "listen" button, your beginning reader can hear the words on the screen as she reads along. A nice feature at the end of each story is a list of vocabulary words.

Here's a sample page from a story for 2nd graders:

I learned about this great resource via a Facebook post by Charity Preston, who writes the Organized Classroom blog. Charity's post linked to a Pinterest pin by Carolyn Wilhelm, who operates the Wise Owl Factory. Both of these sites offer a ton of free resources themselves, and are definitely worthy of a visit.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 8

Today is Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, and in his honor I'm suggesting that you read Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with your students. Amazon's book description says that the book "offers a glimpse into the mind of a great leader, admired across the globe for his dedication to the struggles against apartheid in South Africa. Now the youngest readers can discover the remarkable story of Mandela's long walk from ordinary village boy, to his dynamic leadership of the African National Congress, to his many long years in prison-and, at last, his freedom and astonishing rise to become the leader of his country."  The American Library Association recommends the book for 2nd - 6th graders. 

Today is also Mandela Day, which seeks "to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good."

If you study this modern-day revolutionary hero, you can incorporate essential skills in geography with history and the government of South Africa where, after 27 years as a political prisoner, Mandela was president from 1994 until 1999. I can imagine using the book to kick off a nonfiction unit for 7th and 8th graders to culminate in a writing assignment that compares/contrasts the struggle to end apartheid with the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Citing evidence after close reading and perhaps using graphic organizers to organize ideas? Common Core to the, well, core!

For more resources, check out the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website, which includes digital archives and multimedia resources.

Enjoy learning along with your kiddos, and please, let this book and others in the series help cure your CC Blues!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Start with a Book. Read. Talk. Explore.

I LOVE Reading Rockets, and I'm thrilled to share with you their companion website, Start With a Book, launched just last year to "ward off the learning loss that many children experience over the summer. (It) offers adults engaging, research-based ideas for getting kids into books all summer and beyond."

What a great selection of resources for parents, librarians, and summer program teachers including
  • 24 Summer Reading Themes (with suggestions for fiction & nonfiction books to read with your child, hands-on activities & crafts, and much more)
  • Read-Aloud Tips (including tips for reading nonfiction, using mental imagery, and building comprehension & critical thinking skills)
  • Fluency-Building Ideas 
  • Book Lists 
  • Literacy Resources
One of my favorite sections is Fluent Kids, where the importance of fluency is explained, "Fluency is the bridge between decoding words and understanding what has been read," and followed with an abundance of suggestions and tips for helping your child build her confidence and skills so she can focus her attention on what the story or text means. Your kiddo will love buddy reading with you, rereading favorite books, recording herself reading, or listening to audiobooks from your public library.

So, go on. Click over to Start with a Book, and read, talk, and explore...all summer long! 

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

CCSS Initiatives for ELLs

I have a quick share today for those who teach English Language Learners, whether in ESL or regular classrooms. 
TESOL International Association released an issue brief just last month titled Overview of the Common Core State Standards Initiatives for ELLs. Its stated purpose is to "provide a comprehensive overview of the policies behind the CCSS and to outline some of the initiatives now in place to address the needs of English language learners (ELLs) in relation to the CCSS."

If you teach ELLs, you need to read this brief. One of its most important features is a table that shows the three overarching English Language Arts/Literacy CCSS Shifts side by side with the continuum of expertise, according to Achieve the Core, that teachers will need "to ensure that ELLs with varying levels of first language literacy, background knowledge, and English language proficiency can achieve the CCSS."

Important knowledge for everyone, since ALL teachers are teachers of English Learners!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Reading Beyond the "Popular Posts"

Hey, friends!

I just want to remind you that there are MANY resources on the blog that don't appear in the right-side column as "Popular Posts." Below are some of my favorites.

If you want to make your science classes more effective, you NEED to read these three posts about inquiry:
A Private Universe - It will change your life!
A Private Universe - Second in a Series
Teaching Science Through Inquiry - Last in the Series

Thinking ahead to next year? Consider using Planbook as your very convenient online planning book/tool. I guarantee it will make your life easier with its pull-down lists of standards and its calendar format.

White Flour - the Book and the Video is personally meaningful to me, as a southerner and the mom of a missionary.

I think you'll love Booksource's Classroom Library Organizer to keep track of all those books that are so important to your students.

Staying with the book theme, ReadKiddoRead is James Patterson's initiative "dedicated to making kids readers for life." You'll find videos, lists of suggested books by level and genre, suggestions for lesson plans, discussion groups, and more!

I love the books I wrote about in the "Cures for the Common Core Blues" series: 
Be on the lookout for more of these!

Remember to use the "Labels" list to find posts related to particular ideas and subjects. Don't forget to follow the blog, and have a great weekend!

Sunday, 24 March 2013


I've written before about my daughter's book blog; her latest post is one that warms the heart of a teacher/Mom/Gran-Nan who loves to read and wants the children in her life to love reading, too. 

Joanna describes how she read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars at school while her students read their independent books: "My students delighted in watching me read it, as I laughed out loud, (and) shared lines and paragraphs with them. (They) could hardly wait for me to finish so they could fight over who would check it out next from our school library. I finally felt, with my reading of The Fault in Our Stars, that I could at last show my students what it means to fall head over heels in love with a book -- with the characters, with their predicaments, with the plot ups and downs."

Of course, Joanna's blog is just one of many that review great books for young people and adults. If you're especially looking for teachers to follow who are dedicated to instilling a love of reading, I suggest that you start with:

Sarah Mulhern Gross, contributor at The Learning Network at the New York Times, who blogs at The Reading Zone, and is @thereadingzone on Twitter, and

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, whose Twitter ID is @donalynbooks. Her Facebook page is also called The Book Whisperer.

I'm looking forward to reading this book, and perhaps seeing the movie, which is currently in pre-production.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Roll ~ Say ~ Keep Games

So yesterday, at the school where I work as an Academic Specialist, I got yet another great idea FROM one of the teachers. She had been to a PD session and came back talking about something she heard there. A quick Google, and one thing led to another. Yep, another teacher theft moment! :)

I'm so thankful that great teachers share their ideas with the rest of us, and I'm especially thankful today for Kathy Gursky and her website, The School Bell

Kathy puts me in mind of the awesome Cherry Carl because her site is packed with so many good ideas for activities, graphics, games, and projects. I want to show you just one piece of her "Dolch Kit."

If you teach primary students, you know that a huge key to fluent reading is knowing sight words well. Kathy has downloadable sets of flash cards, phrase cards, and mini-flashcards that are perfect for playing "Roll ~ Say ~ Keep!"

I downloaded all 11 sets of Kathy's mini word cards and adapted the game board slightly. You can download my board below. I printed, mounted on construction paper, and laminated. Our 1st grade teacher and SPED teacher are all set to let their students play a new game practice essential sight words...shhh! ;-)

Friday, 8 March 2013

An Excellent Find: E is for Explore!

You are going to LOVE the site I have to share with you tonight! I came across it via a science activity posted to Pinterest, and was I ever amazed and delighted when I followed the link to Erin Bittman's blog, E is for Explore!

Erin blends graphic design, her original career, with her current path toward becoming a teacher, to "develop unique learning activities, search the internet and compile additional great ideas from other sources." Her site is chock-full of manipulatives and activities useful across the curriculum, from literacy to math and engineering, and she provides easy links to sites that she shares.

Since Easter is coming soon, I'll show you images from one of Erin's posts, wherein she shares activities from inferencing to fractions using Plastic Eggs

Great, huh? Click on over to Erin's blog, where "all 'E is for Explore' activities conform to state common core curriculum standards."

And you're welcome! :-)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Why Inquiry? RAD

I met Dr. Judy Willis a few years ago, when she presented her RAD ideas to science teachers and professional developers at Middle Tennessee State University. In order to share her research at later PD sessions, I summarized it, and I want to share the handout that accompanied my sessions with you. (It was sent to her for approval first.)

Her story is unique: "Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, has combined her 15 years as a practicing adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience. After five years teaching at Santa Barbara Middle School, and ten years of classroom teaching all together, in 2010, Dr. Willis reluctantly left teaching middle school students and dedicated herself full-time to teaching educators."

Why Inquiry? 

All children are born scientists who learn about the world around them through exploration and discovery. 

Inquiry learning is twice as efficient as “drill and kill.” It builds content knowledge, understanding, and reasoning
  • It increases students’ engagement so they develop knowledge conceptually 
  • Students construct understanding through investigations rather than by rote memory. 
  • Students develop reasoning skills that enable them to handle open-ended tasks, to think creatively, and to make decisions rationally. 
Even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed.

I. Lessons should be organized to engage students’ brains in order for them to acquire content knowledge. 

Our planning should revolve around this question: “How can my students use inquiry to acquire knowledge and develop understanding so that knowledge can be applied to other areas of their learning and their lives?” 

During inquiry activities, YOU facilitate as YOUR STUDENTS make meaning for themselves; you may need to provide direct instruction at multiple points during an inquiry-based unit.


The goal of our teaching is that acquired information gets to the conscious, cognitive brain so that new learning reaches long-term memory and becomes useable, transferable knowledge.

To reach the “conscious brain,” sensory input must be Reticular Activating System “selected.” The reactive brain responds to stimuli with fight/flight/freeze.

We must get past that filter with stability and familiarity, and then captivate R.A.S. attention/stimulate curiosity with

  • Change, novelty, surprise 
  • Prior knowledge activation 
  • Advertising 
  • Color, costumes 
  • Music, movement 
  • Discrepant events 

Some ideas to make your lessons R.A.S. selected:

  • Walk backwards into and around the room before beginning a discussion about negative numbers 
  • Put on a “thinking cap” to indicate that what comes next is very important 
  • Show a book trailer to stimulate interest in a novel before reading it. 
  • Use color-coded highlighters for labeling key words, important points, etc. 
  • Set up a think-pair-share or a jigsaw so students know they will be doing something with information they gain during a reading/listening activity 
  • Start with a current or local event – anything that promotes “buy-in” 
  • Alert students to information that connects with their personally valued goals 


The Amygdala responds to interest, relevance, and pleasure. Students (or people) who are in a positive emotional state have an open amygdala leading directly to the prefrontal cortex, where long-term memory resides. Students who are stressed have no passage to the prefrontal cortex. Brain scans show a direct path to the prefrontal cortex during a happy state and no activation of the passage to the prefrontal cortex during sadness, anger, or fear.

Causes of school stress include

  • Being embarrassed to read aloud 
  • Anxiety about taking tests 
  • Physical and language differences 
  • Bullying and cliques 
  • Frustration with material that is too difficult – zone of proximal development 
  • Boredom - many children have been robbed of the joy of successful learning because of boredom caused by teach-to-the-test rote memorization. 

The greatest fear reported by students is making a mistake in a whole-class setting. Supportive classrooms are those where students feel safe enough to take the risk of participating and being “smart”...and even risk making mistakes! 

Inquiry is de-stressing.
  • It builds a classroom learning community that invites participation by all students. 
  • It connects with prior knowledge. 
  • It invites pleasurable engagement through prediction. 
  • It provides learning practice where students learn to use their reflective rather than reactive brain networks. 

The Dopamine response is inspiration, motivation, curiosity, creativity, persistence, and perseverance. Dopamine is released when we are given choices as well as when we are moving, collaborating, enjoying music, and feeling self-appreciation. The results are acting kindly, interacting well with friends, expressing gratitude, and feeling optimistic.

Choice = ownership on the part of the learner 
Group learning increases dopamine and builds pleasure-associated memories

Acetylcholine Bonus – When dopamine levels are high, acetylcholine is released and “...by enhancing the response to sensory input, high levels of acetylcholine enhance attention to the environment...by enhancing the response to external input, high levels of acetylcholine enhance the encoding of memory for specific stimuli, allowing more effective and accurate encoding of sensory events.” ~Michael E. Hasselmo & Jill McGaughy, Dept. of Psychology, Center for Memory and Brain, Boston University

Consolidation occurs in the hippocampus, where new information is encoded with previously stored related knowledge:

If it is isolated, 
it isn’t consolidated. 
It MUST be related! 

Patterning is matching prior knowledge to new information to encode new memory. Long-term memories are made through pattern construction in the brain – Piaget’s “schema” are mental maps or categories of knowledge that grow through pattern association. Good inquiries don’t have a simple, single answer (just like real life) - they encourage students to recognize and build patterns, thus connecting new information into their brains’ neural wiring. 

II. Unless something is done with a new memory, it is lost in less than a minute. Relational memories are turned into understanding (and stored in long-term memory) by mental manipulation in the prefrontal cortex. 

John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience, 

we learn by reflecting on it.” 

“Dend-writes” for mental manipulation 

  • Draw a picture, diagram, or graphic organizer of what you learned. 
  • React to the most surprising thing you learned today. 
  • Reflect on how something you learned connects to something you already knew. 
  • Predict what will come next. 
  • Make a note of what is still confusing to you. 
  • Write about a new/better understanding that you have. 
  • Describe a strategy you used to solve a problem today. 
  • Describe a “so what” – the one thing you’ll remember most about today’s lesson. 
  • Write about how this lesson connects to things you learn in other subjects. 
  • Compare/contrast, categorize, or summarize an aspect of the lesson. 
  • Create an analogy that explains what this lesson reminded you about or how it fits with what you already knew. 
You can use your students’ dend-writes to:
  • Know how accurately the lesson was understood 
  • Correct any misperceptions at the next class meeting 
  • Ask students whose responses were especially good to share those insights with the class as review or to promote discussion. 
  • Post good responses as “back-pats” 

III. Inquiry-centered learning builds reasoning skills or “executive functions.”
The prefrontal cortex is only about 15% of the brain’s volume; we have to make it count! Our goal is to turn information into usable, transferable knowledge. 

The brain’s executive functions include
  • Judgment 
  • Prioritizing 
  • Analyzing information 
  • Decision making 
  • Goal planning 
  • Organizing 
  • Inferring 
  • Synthesizing 
  • Integrating 
  • Problem-solving 
Call it HOTS, critical thinking, or whatever you like...this is our goal!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

More Common Core Writing Practice at the New York Times

For your own best practices, here are two recent Common Core Practice Writing Tasks from The Learning Network at The New York Times.

An argumentative writing task about the late "technology wunderkind,Aaron Swartz: A Data Crusader, a Defendant and Now, a Cause.
A narrative writing task about Richard Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles who was the 2013 inaugural poet: Poet's Kinship with the President.
Craig Dilger for The New York Times
I highly recommend not only these tasks, but also that you check out the Common Core Practice that appears each Friday on The Learning Network's page! And, as always, I ask that you leave a comment if you use Sarah Gross and Jonathan Olsen's great ideas.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lit2Go - FREE Audio Books

From Aesop's Fables to The Velveteen Rabbit, with Dracula, Jane Eyre, and Tom Sawyer in between, you'll be amazed at the number of FREE audio books you'll find at Lit2Go, an ongoing project of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

"Lit2Go is a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. An abstract, citation, playing time, and word count are given for each of the passages. Many of the passages also have a related reading strategy identified. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom."

Try playing these classics for your students during read-aloud time, and watch them start to appreciate books that haven't exactly been flying off your library shelves!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Storyline Online, from the Screen Actors Guild

How would you like to have 25 FREE read-alouds for your students to enjoy? What if all 25 of them were GREAT children's books? And if the readers were people like James Earl Jones or Jane Kaczmarek, or perhaps Ernest Borgnine or Annette Bening?

If this sounds amazing, then you are in luck! 

The Screen Actors Guild Foundation provides this great resource via YouTube or, for those whose systems block the site, via SchoolTube's Storyline Online channel

Here's Betty White reading Gene Zion's classic Harry the Dirty Dog:

As if the videos weren't enough, Storyline Online also provides a downloadable activity guide for each book that includes questions, suggested research extensions, internet activities, and biographical information about the author, illustrator, and reader, plus more book suggestions.

I know you'll enjoy all this site has to offer you and your kiddos!