6-12 Curriculum Newsletter

March 2019


As the wonders of spring surround us, use the tips and strategies in this month's newsletter and watch your students bloom! Happy reading!

Self Reflection

Self reflection is the intentional analysis of one’s instructional choices. It should be a standard practice for all educators because it encourages consciousness of both successful and unsuccessful practices and decisions. Teaching involves making a myriad of daily choices that can result in both successes or failures. Therefore, practicing self reflection can help to identify successes and consider options for change that can impact student learning. There are many ways to accomplish this: keep a journal, write anecdotal notes, seek feedback from students, or invite a colleague to observe your teaching.

It’s difficult to self-reflect on teaching as it’s happening because there are many other things going on in the classroom at the same time; therefore, you should wait for a quiet time to reflect. During that time, consider what you’re trying to accomplish, what actually occurred, and how to bridge the gap between them. No one likes to revisit areas of failure, but you cannot identify areas for improvement without closely analyzing weaknesses. Ask yourself, what does this experience say to me and how can I learn from it?

In order to make the necessary adjustments to improve your practices, analyze your results. Look for recurring patterns, analyze your students’ and colleagues’ feedback, read up on effective techniques that can help remedy your situation, and interact with other teachers on social media sites. Finally, devise a specific plan based on your reflection. Be sure to set measurable goals and track improvements. Most importantly, never stop self-reflecting!

Strategies to Increase Active Learning

No matter the age of the students or the subject matter being taught, it’s critical that all students read, write, speak, and listen during each and every class period. Consider incorporating one of the following strategies in your classroom as soon as tomorrow; as your students become more actively engaged, you’ll go from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side!

Anticipation Guide: Before reading a text, ask students to read several thought-provoking statements and decide if they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree.’ Students then discuss their beliefs with a partner. (Ex: Telling lies is acceptable for the right reasons. Agree or Disagree)

Taking a Stand: After reading about a controversial issue, ask students to stand along a continuum and defend their position

Conversation Cafe: Students practice defending different perspectives by representing an assigned character, group or person in history, etc.

Paragraph Shrinking: Students take turns reading and summarizing the main ideas of each paragraph in a news article, primary or secondary source.

Crop it: Students will interpret an image by ‘framing’ and analyzing smaller portions of the whole -- this can be done in writing or as a discussion.

Graffiti Boards: Students engage in written conversations with their classmates.

Concept Sort: Provide students with a list of words/phrases on a given subject and ask them to sort them in a way that is meangingful to them (open sort) or into predetermined categories (closed sort). Students can then write a paragraph to show their understanding of the words.

Text Annotation: Students activley read a text, underline terms, circle key vocabulary, and summarize each paragraph in the margins.

3x Summarization: Students write summaries of texts with varying lengths.

The Importance of Teaching Students the “Soft Skills” Needed for Success

Students today are growing up in a time period where technology is everywhere! Students are dependent on their phones for communication via text messaging and problem solving via Google search. As a result of this increase in technology, there has been a noticeable decrease in a student’s social and communication skills.

As we prepare students with the necessary content knowledge and skills for life beyond high school, it is imperative that we strengthen students’ soft skills, or non academic skills, necessary to be successful in the workforce. CareerBuilder.com stated that 77% of employers report that soft skills are just as important as hard skills.

According to LinkedIn, the five most in-demand soft skills businesses are looking for are:

  1. Creativity

  2. Persuasion

  3. Collaboration

  4. Adaptability

  5. Time Management

Here are seven tips for teachers when embedding soft skills in their daily instruction:

  1. Create a learning environment where students feel safe and and are encouraged to take educational risks.

  2. Hold all students to high, rigorous standards.

  3. Teach the whole person (not just the “student”). Social and Emotional Learning

  4. Emphasize that the same solution doesn’t necessarily work every time, even in the same situation.

  5. Foster a classroom culture where it is okay to meet failure and setbacks. Being able to bounce back when things do not go as planned is a valuable life skill.

  6. Create opportunities for students to innovate, both on their own and in groups.

  7. Develop metacognitive skills to assist students in increasing their problem solving skills. 9 Questions to Improve Metacognition

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

-John Dewey

Big picture

March Madness in the Classroom

College basketball takes over the country whether you are a basketball fan or not, which must be the reason they call it March Madness! Why not embrace it and bring it into your classroom to enhance your classroom engagement? Check out these activities and classroom gaming practices you might want to use with your students to wrap up the March Madness tournament.

  • Create your own bracket (Click Link)- Use this link to create many engaging activities.

    • Fill out the bracket with multiple universities from around the country for a geography lesson.

    • Battle of the books- students can vote for their favorite books

    • Motivate students with a friendly competition- choose your class challenge.

  • Basketball Review Game- Have a mini basket, bucket, or use the waste basket in your class for this activity. Allow your students to answer review questions in teams or small groups. They receive a point for getting their question correct and a bonus point for making the shot! This is a simple activity to modify to your liking.

  • Figure the Winner- Students will predict winners of the NCAA basketball tournament. They will calculate percentage, average, mean, median, and more!

  • Madness Scavenger Hunt (The history)

  • March Basketball Fun Worksheet

  • Recreate team banners or mascots for an art project. You can also use this to build class morale.

Expect Excellence From Every English Learner

Recently, May Fermin-Cannon attended a conference in which Principal Kafele was the keynote speaker. Throughout the presentation, he engaged the audience in a self-reflection activity around equity. By the end of the session, he reminded the audience that equity is not what I do, it’s who I am. Likewise, equity is not what we do, it’s who we are.

Singer (2018) agreed that when teaching students, expect excellence from every learner. Keep in mind that if we don’t expect much, then that’s exactly what we will get. In other words, students will rise or fail to our expectations. In theory this sounds great, but in practice it can be challenging. Below are a few tips on getting started!

  • Be specific about your goals for student learning

    • make goals clear instead of posting and saying them

    • provide examples of what success looks like

    • model and demonstrate how the examples meet the learning objectives

  • Prioritize high-level thinking tasks

    • remember, perfect English use is not a prerequisite for high-level academic tasks

    • encourage the imperfections that are a natural part of building cognitive and communicative skills

    • when English is used imperfectly, focus on the context of a high-level task and what the student is trying to convey

Works Cited

Singer, Tonya Ward. EL Excellence Every Day: the Flip-to Guide for Differentiating Academic Literacy / Tonya Ward Singer ; Foreword by Jeff Zwiers. Corwin, 2018.

Building Student Centered Math Classrooms

Student-centered learning is a powerful tool for student success for today’s students. A student-centered approach uses multiple strategies in teaching and learning. Math classrooms have typically been a place of routine, where teachers take students through a regular structure of teaching content, allowing time for guiding practice, and then providing time for independent practice. A more student-centered approach can mean ditching the routine to build a more meaningful learning process that is purposely planned to support and challenge each student specifically.

We want students to be able to:

  • Use mathematical reasoning to understand the “why” as well as the “how.”

  • Communicate their thinking and critique the reasoning of others.

  • Make connections between and among mathematical concepts and real world concepts

  • Engage and persevere in solving complex mathematical problems.

Student-centered learning has the power to increase understanding, and to motivate and inspire students to solve problems that are meaningful and personalized. For an example, choose real world application problems, use error analysis to encourage mathematical discussions in the classroom or provide an answer and ask students “what is the problem?” Take an instructional risk and give it a try!

Thinking Like a Scientist in the K-12 Classroom

During the early part of the 20th century, Ernest Rutherford performed a classic experiment where he observed the scattering of alpha particles by gold foil. This observation of a phenomena, combined with his core idea that matter was made up of atoms, allowed him to question the composition of the atom. Through experimentation and data analysis, he developed a new model.

The K-12 classroom is not the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University; however, the NGSS provides a framework in which students are meant to think like scientists. This is done by using phenomena that engage and expose students to a wide range of core ideas (facts), that are

  1. Relatable

  2. Open-ended

  3. Generate good questions and further inquiry

Unexpected questions occur when students have misconceptions, so teachers need to construct their own explanations of phenomena ahead of time and be prepared to answer the unexpected. Remember, real science is part reward and part frustration. Transition to NGSS and phenomena based instruction is no different.

Dear Data Guy

How can I help my students prepare for the upcoming NJSLA Assessments this spring?

Great question. While we don’t want our teachers to teach to the test, it is important for our learners to get a feel for the material on any assessment they are given. I would suggest making the students aware of the content of the assessments, units, and unit times.

-The ELA Blueprints define the total number of tasks and/or items for any given grade or course assessment. The ELA companion guide has the unit times.

-The Math Blueprints define the total number of tasks and/or items for any given grade or course assessment, the types of items on the assessment, and the point values for each item. The Math companion guide has the unit times.

Additionally, as Mr. Scotto mentioned during the roadshow this fall, we should also offer students time to utilize the practice tools because, after all, we wouldn’t take a driver’s test in a different car than we practiced on. In the tech world, it would be like switching your phone from an iPhone to an Android device.

The tutorials can be found HERE.

  1. Use the Equation Editor tool to familiarize students with the math tools available to them.

  2. Using the Test Nav tutorial will enable students to be comfortable moving through the test and using the toolbar, as well as using the embedded tools.

  3. Students with accommodations must practice, using the accommodations tutorials before they are offered to them as an option.

Finally, students should try the practice tests in their classroom or at home. Best practice would be to embed test items throughout the school year or make your own assessment questions more like next generation assessments.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Spring is finally here....and it's not too early to start thinking your Domain IV Preparation.

In an effort to assist staff with preparation for Component 4A - Reflection on Teaching, consider the following reflective questions:

  • How did I reflect to adjust my lesson plans to improve future lessons?
  • What were the results of adjustments made?
  • What record keeping steps and documentation have I utilized or created this year to continuously reflect and improve my skills?

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Mayreni Fermin-Cannon, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K, ESSA Title Grants, & Family Engagement

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEAM

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Danielle Tan, Visual and Performing Arts