K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

December 2018


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Start the New Year on a High Note

December is an interesting month for everyone in education. The excitement of the holiday season and the break to come can add extra distractions for students. At times, it can feel like a countdown to January for a much needed reboot, for both the students and teachers. Let us make the road to 2019 a meaningful one, with great tasks (for the teacher) and activities (for the class) that lead into the new year. Here are a few ideas:

  • Review and discuss class expectations to refocus for the second half of the school year. This is a great time to redirect possible bad habits.

  • Reboot out of class habits (ie- effective note-taking, studying, time management...).

  • Reflect on the school year thus far (as individuals and as a whole class). Where was there success and where can you improve in 2019?

  • Set personal, educational, and group goals for 2019. Involve your students in the process as well. It is nice for them to have some accountability for their own learning and where they would like to improve as well.

  • Allow everyone to re-introduce themselves. With so much to do during the school year, it is easy to forget those meaningful moments of learning the finer details about your students. There are many fine ice breaker/team building types of activities that can bring everyone back together to end 2018 and start 2019 on a high note.

Cultural Awareness and Breaking Diversity Barriers

As educators, we must implement educational strategies that encourage respect, acceptance, and understanding of one another. Vast possibilities to intensify learning exist in applying cultural knowledge to classroom lesson planning and teaching. Ask students to reflect upon their backgrounds when completing assignments, and encourage them to share their work. Consider pairing or grouping students so that all students are included, making the learning experience fulfilling. When orchestrated effectively, students will interact on a deeper level, breaking the diversity barriers.

Word Problems

There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in the flock. How old is the shepard? Wait a minute? What? When presented with this problem, 75% of 8th graders answered with a number. When students are taught to only look for key words without thinking about the meaning of the problem, students will often struggle with problem solving. Below are four pitfalls with teaching students key words as a problem solving strategy.

Teaching students key words sends the wrong message about math. Math classrooms once was about getting the right answer. With technology today, students do not need to focus solely on getting the right answer but more on the process of figuring out how they arrive at the answer. Although a correct answer is the end goal, having students persevere through the process is much more important.

Key words are often misleading. Students are often taught that “in all” always means to add. Consider this problem: There are three boxes of chicken nuggets on the table. Each box contains six chicken nuggets. How many chicken nuggets are there in all? If students are simply taught to find the key words, they will think the answer is nine and not eighteen.

Many problems have no key words. With the shift in math from simply finding the answer to unrealistic word problems to solving real-world applications, many problems students will be posed with have no key words. For example: Aidan has 28 goldfish. 12 are orange and the rest are yellow. How many goldfish are yellow?

Key words don’t work for two step or multi-step word problems. As students progress in their math knowledge, some of the “rules” they are taught in the elementary grades “expire.” Key words is one of these rules. In second grade, students are introduced to two-step word problems. If they are only taught to hunt for key words, they will miss the meaning of the problem and will often struggle with two-step or multi-step word problems.

So, how should we teach students to solve word problems? Teaching reading comprehension strategies in the math classroom is the most effective way for students to be taught how to solve word problems. Teaching students to look for the structure of the problem, giving a summary, visualizing or acting out the problem are effective reading comprehension strategies that can be used.

Just as many other skills in math, students need to be taught for conceptual understanding rather than just rote memorization. For more strategies to use for teaching students word problems see the link below.

Digging Deeper into Close Reading

The first time I heard about close reading the image that popped into my head was of my students leaning in really close to what they were reading with magnifying glasses. As I learned about this practice I learned that reading closely isn’t about having your face close up to the text, but it’s about getting readers to focus intently on the text—giving it a thorough examination to gather as much meaning as possible.

Close reading requires that students analyze the texts thoroughly; a “one and done” reading is not enough. Students will need to read and reread the texts. Each time the students read the same piece of text, they are reading for a different purpose.

  • 1st Read: read and scrape the surface - get the gist.

  • 2nd Read: read and look at the structure and gain a little more meaning

  • 3rd Read and Beyond: with each additional read students have a different purpose. until there is deep understanding and full meaning.

Students are reading the same text multiple times until: they can explain it, they know the main idea/ key details, and they can ask and answer different levels of text dependent questions. It is important to select text that is rich enough for students to draw solid evidence and meaning from. Be sure to provide students with a purpose or focus for each reading. Various strategies should be provided for reading different genres and text types.

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The Importance of Using Visuals with English Language Learners

During last month’s newsletter, tips and strategies were shared on supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) across content areas. The first strategy on the list was the use of visuals as often as possible. Let’s revisit this strategy by reviewing the importance of visuals and ways to incorporate them in your lessons starting tomorrow.

So, why visuals? Do you remember the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Teaching ELLs grade-level content across different proficiency levels can be challenging. Just as challenging is acclimating to a new country and culture while learning English.

The use of visuals facilitates the learning process by providing students with permanent images that can easily be referred to at a later time. Through visuals, students are able to see abstract concepts in a more concrete way. Imagine being able to scaffold students as they build background knowledge and make connections to the new learning. This simple yet powerful tool also helps students by lowering their affective filter or anxiety levels as they engage in activities, participate, and complete tasks.

Types of visuals recommended for ELLs and all students.

  • Realia (real objects)

  • Anchor Charts

  • Academic Vocabulary Word Wall

  • Manipulatives

  • Graphic Organizers

  • Sentence Strips

Dear Data Guy

Dear Data Guy

I heard PARCC is changing. Is that true?

Yes, there are a couple of changes to the PARCC test this year. First, the name of the test has changed. Instead of PARCC, the test is called NJSLA or New Jersey Student Learning Assessment.

The number of units and the unit times are also changing.

The NJSLA Assessment for English Language Arts will have two units of 75 minutes each for grade 3, and two units of 90 minutes each for grades 4-5.

The NJSLA Assessment for Math will have three units in grades 3-5 of 60 minutes each.

As Mr. Scotto discussed during the PARCC Roadshows, in order to prepare your students for the rigor of the state assessments, it is important to assess students at the same rigor and complexity as the state assessment. Your curriculum supervisor will share more information about the assessment as it becomes available.

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Notes from Mr. Scotto

Over the last few months the Office of Curriculum & Instruction has been preparing for Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC). I'm pleased to inform you that all required documentation was submitted to the NJ Department of Education on Friday, December 14th.

The new monitoring guidelines require additional components to be added to existing curricular documents. In the coming days, the curriculum supervisors will be sending these revised guides to all staff. Please be sure to save an electronic copy of all documents.

On a different note, I would like to wish all of you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Enjoy your winter recess.

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Supervisors of K-5 Staff

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

Danielle Tan, Art and Music

Heather Lieberman, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science