6-12 Curriculum Newsletter

November 2018

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Chat Stations for Class Discussion

Looking for ways to increase class discussion and student engagement? Use chat stations! Chat stations are a simpler approach to stations/centers with less prep and possible complication.

Here is how to get started:

  • Write questions down and place them around the room (i.e., break up a worksheet you were planning to work on in a lesson).

  • Group students in small groups (2-4).

  • To assist with accountability, provide each group a worksheet aligned to the questions around the room.

  • Ask students to rotate from station to station to discuss questions and record their answers. (The teacher can time stations or add stations so groups may work at their own pace.)

  • Students return to their seats for whole class discussion.

  • Call on each group to discuss their findings.

Advantages of chat stations:

  • Improves whole class discussions

  • Gets students up and moving

  • Allows students to be better prepared to discuss topics in class because they have had an opportunity to delve into the topics beforehand

  • Increases peer to peer discussion

  • Reduces prep time for teachers

Supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) in the Content Areas

If you’re a general education or content area teacher trying to find ways of supporting ELLs, you’re not alone. Here you will find some strategies to consider and other that can be implemented right away. Remember to always maintain high expectations of all ELLs and never water down the curriculum.

Getting to know each student by learning about their background, culture, and family will help you immensely when planning instruction. Not only will you be able to present content in a relatable manner, but you will also help students as they build background knowledge and make connections to the new learning. One other tool to keep within reach as you plan instruction are the WIDA Can Do Descriptors. By knowing what students “Can Do” at their English Language Proficiency (ELP) level, you will be able to create meaningful activities at their ELP level. If you don’t have ELP levels for your student(s), please contact your school’s ESL teacher.

Below you’ll find a few suggestions to try right away.

  • use visuals as often as possible

  • display sentence starters or sentence frames and teach ELLs how to use them when engaging in discussions or completing writing assignments

  • provide opportunities for collaborative work

  • allow students to use their word-to-word dictionaries

  • repeat or rephrase directions

  • model what you expect and how to complete assignments

  • modify homework, classwork, and tests

  • chunk reading materials

The More Students 'DO,' the More Students Learn

When teachers do little more than have students copy down information or fill out worksheets, school becomes a dreaded place to be. In an effort to see what is really happening in the daily life of a high school student, instructional coach Alexis Wiggins, shadowed two high school students and reported on her experience. (You can find the entire article here; if you have a few minutes, it is worth the read.)

Her three big take-aways after this experience were:

  • The majority of students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

  • Students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

  • Students are repeatedly told to be quiet and pay attention, which makes them feel unworthy.

All is not lost; however, there are some ways teachers can increase engagement. When mindfully planning instruction, consider adding one of these activities:

1. KINESTHETIC WORK - Moving during class gets the blood pumping. Consider a gallery walk, chat stations, or using a four corner activity.

2. DISCUSSION - Giving students a few minutes to discuss a topic helps them process and learn. Consider having students debate, take a stance, and discuss evidence that backs up their claims.

3. GRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS - Putting material in visual form will help students retain information and understand how concepts are related. Graphic organizers can help to accomplish this.

Give Students a Choice in What They Read

Not surprisingly, the best way to improve reading skills is … to read. Also not surprising is the fact that students are more likely to read when they have a choice in what they read. Newsela (https://newsela.com) offers a variety of nonfiction texts across all disciplines and includes articles at various grade levels; many articles have also been translated into Spanish. All HTSD secondary teachers and students can access Newsela through Clever.

Use Newsela to provide choice reading opportunities within content areas. Simply search for your topic (examples: marine biology, World War II, vaping, Post-Impressionism) and create a selection of articles students can choose from. As an added bonus, each article has a 4-question on-line quiz!

Students can also search for something they’re interested in. With over 7,000 articles--and 25 added each week, there is something for everyone! There are articles on Fortnite, social media, soccer, fashion, service dogs … you name it!

Holding Students Accountable For Their Learning

All educators encounter students who constantly make excuses and fail to assume responsibility for their actions. Teachers must ensure their students are accountable for their own learning and success. Doing so doesn’t make the teacher “mean." It is about teaching life lessons and helping students understand responsibility. By holding students accountable, teachers are giving them the tools needed to better themselves for their future.

Here are a few strategies to try in your classroom today:

  1. Allow students to take the lead: Students should be given the opportunity to take responsibility for their academic success by formulating a plan and identifying the steps needed to meet their goal. The teacher should assist, monitor, and provide feedback. By assuming responsibility for their plan and their mistakes, they learn accountability. Some teachers may choose to work collaboratively with parents because students have a better chance of meeting goals when working as a team with their parents.

  2. Create a positive classroom atmosphere where students feel respected: Treat students how you would want to be treated, and remember that demeanor and tone will send a message to students. Communicate goals and objectives frequently, and remind students that that they are in charge of their own behavior and success.

  3. Make time for a reflective process: Students should be given adequate time to assess how well they are meeting their responsibilities. Rubrics are a helpful tool that enable students to grade themselves. Another helpful tool is the student portfolio, which is a compilation of academic work for the purpose of evaluating quality, progress, and academic achievement. Students can also engage in reflective practices with their peers.

Check out this video for information on holding students accountable.

Choice Boards

One way to increase student engagement is to employ choice boards or menus in the classroom. They provide students with options and control over how they engage with curriculum. In order for this strategy to be effective, there are some “non-negotiables” that must be included. Expectations should be clear. Options should focus on objectives and require the use of key concepts.

Using a choice board or menu is an easy way to differentiate within the classroom. They can be tiered to various levels of readiness and should require students to use key concepts and skills to complete activities. If you haven't already tried one of these methods, give one a shot to see how students become empowered and more motivated to perform.

Sample Social Studies Choice Board

Sample Science Choice Board

Sample Math Choice Board

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Anchoring Phenomena

NGSS places a strong emphasis on the use of phenomena within units of study. One type of phenomena are Anchoring Phenomena, which are puzzling events or processes whose full explanation requires students to coordinate and use a wide range of science and evidence.

If you’re thinking of including anchoring phenomena into your instruction consider these simple rules:

  1. Students have to find them comprehensible and relate them to their life experiences.

  2. The phenomena should be complex and rich in science content.

  3. It should be an observable event or process.

  4. The best phenomena are specific events within a specific context.

  5. The questions you pose when introducing the phenomena should be “why” not “what”. For example, don’t ask “what causes seasons” but rather, “why are there no seasons near the equator?”

  6. Look for phenomena that either

    1. Draw upon students everyday experiences.

    2. Draw upon students interests.

    3. Are current in the media.

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5.3 meter Burmese Python caught in the Everglades on Nov 11th, 2018. Why is it important to eliminate pythons from the Everglades and what impact are they having on the ecosystem?

Dear Data Guy

I didn’t receive an SGP score but I taught in a 7th grade Language Arts Resource Room last year.

For mSGP to be part of a teacher's evaluation, the teacher must be:

  1. Assigned to a 4th-8th-grade Language Arts or 4th-7th grade math course for 60% or more of the year prior to the date on which the state test was administered, and

  2. Assigned 20 unique students by the district through the Course Roster Submission during the school year of the evaluation, or the combination of up to two previous years plus the current year.

These students must be enrolled for 70% or more of the course duration prior to the administration of the test.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

"Discovering and developing commonality between student and teacher leads to maintaining dignity in the classroom. If we truly consider the dignity of our students to be an absolute priority, everything else falls into place …. In the end and from the beginning, it all comes down to human dignity” (Gates 2017).

I found the aforementioned quote in the October 2018 edition of Educational Leadership. The quote was taken from the work of Valerie Gates (a high school teacher from Utah). Valerie’s message is a reminder of what we heard from Houston Kraft on Opening Day; it is crucial that we continue to focus on the dignity of our students.

As many of you know, the final slide (of my PARCC Roadshows) typically focuses on moving forward. The first item on that slide is remember the message of Opening Day. So many faculty members have agreed that Houston’s message was powerful, was a reminder of what we need to continue to focus on in education, was a wake-up call for focusing on the Whole Child. If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to “discover and develop a commonality” with your students; if you have, keep it going and share it with a colleague.

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