K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

November 2021

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Ways to Teach Climate Change in Your Classroom

New Jersey recently adopted a new set of science standards for grades K-12. The main difference is a focus on introducing students as young as Kindergarten to the impact of climate change on our environment. The issue of climate change is not the sole responsibility of the science teacher within the science class, many experts believe it needs to be taught across many subjects.


So how do we incorporate climate change into other subjects when we are so tight on time to teach the main skills in that class? Below are a few ways to incorporate climate change in your classroom.


The most obvious way to incorporate climate change into any classroom is to simply do a lab. Lab activities can be one of the most effective ways to show students at all age levels how global warming is impacting our environment. Labs make this complex idea accessible to even the youngest learners. Creating simulations on greenhouse effects using plastic wrap to trap the sun’s heat and charcoal to see how black carbon from air pollution can speed the melting of ice are two great labs that can be done with students of all ages.


Another great way to incorporate climate change is to read a book or watch clips from a movie about how climate change is affecting our world. There are many documentaries and books that show how our world has changed drastically over the years. The goal is to make students engaged citizens. We want them to not only see what has happened but to think about how they can do something about it.


Lastly, you can have students research something that is in their own neighborhoods. Having students collect water samples from bodies of water near their homes, taking pictures of cloud formations, and measuring temperatures are all great ways to have students find patterns over time. This can be done during science, math, or even social studies as part of a unit on local neighborhoods. Another way to not only investigate change but also to impact change is to start or work in a school garden. Many of our schools have started community gardens which are a great way to help the environment and the community!


No matter which way you decide to incorporate climate change into your classroom, the most important thing is to just start!

Ways to Enhance Feedback Students Receive

Students are constantly receiving feedback in the classroom, and effective feedback helps students grow as learners. It is essential the feedback is focused and timely in order to impact student learning. Meaningful feedback will increase student engagement and motivation. When students are receiving relevant feedback, they are empowered to accelerate their learning. During reading and writing, students receive feedback from teachers, peers, and themselves through self-assessment. It is important that all of these types of feedback are incorporated into the classroom.


Teacher-directed feedback happens instantaneously when students are interacting with teachers. Oftentimes when students find the correct answer, the response is “good job.” However, this alone does not provide targeted feedback. We want to name the skill or strategy the students are utilizing to get the correct answer like, “Good job using context clues to find the definition of the word.” Now the student is given specific feedback to guide their future learning.


Peer feedback benefits both the student giving feedback and the student receiving the feedback. The student giving the feedback is utilizing the skills they have acquired to evaluate the work of another. Just like with teacher feedback, peer feedback needs to be specific and applicable to what the student is working on. When utilizing peer feedback, provide guidance and a specific focus for students to evaluate. Students should have the opportunity to give and receive feedback from their peers frequently. Consider establishing reading & writing partners who students check in with each other often about their reading and writing.


A final way students receive feedback is through self-assessment. This provides students with the opportunity to think critically about their own learning. The students can set goals based on what they see in their reading and writing. Provide students the opportunity to focus on specific skills and items within their work. When students are reflective, they are becoming leaders in their own learning and increase their motivation to receive and accept feedback from others.


Tips for enhancing feedback:


  • Utilize a Rubric: Use a rubric and focus on one section or element to provide feedback on. Students can complete this in partnerships or individually as a self-assessment.

  • Peer Editing Centers: At each center, the students look at a different aspect of the student’s writing to provide feedback. Provide a specific topic, like transition words, rather than looking for every aspect of the writing piece.

  • Goal Setting with Students: Provide students the opportunity to set goals for their own reading and writing. Teachers can provide feedback on how students are progressing towards their goals. Students can also keep track of their own progress in their notebooks. This is great to share with families at conferences.

  • Student Selected Feedback: Ask students to select an aspect of their reading or writing they would like feedback on. Students will submit the area they want you to review and provide them feedback. Students are empowered to be leaders on what they receive feedback on.

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Incorporating SEL into your everyday classroom

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is more than a trend, it is something that all schools are striving to tackle as we continue to come back to in-school norms. Many educators may not know this, but they may already be incorporating the 5 SEL competencies into their everyday lessons (Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social-Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making ).


Self-Awareness and Self-Management are skills that assist in the growth and improvement of oneself (ie- self-reflection and goal setting). Social-Awareness and Relationship Skills are skills that students need to have successful relationships with one other (ie- group work and communication). Responsible Decision-Making allows students to identify, analyze, and solve a problem).


Activities that relate to SEL Competencies

Self-Awareness

  • Google Form or Pear Deck check-in on student emotions or even students’ feelings about a lesson/activity and their understanding of the content.

    • World Language Example- Can be completed in the target language

Self-Management

  • Mindfulness activities. Self-management has a lot to do with impulse control, stress management, and self-motivation.

    • Health/PE Example- Allow a mindful minute for your students each and every day. It can be at the start, middle, or end of a lesson depending on what the class and teacher feel they need. Allow the students to stand and stretch or sit, close their eyes, and breathe for a minute. Also, ask them to set a goal for the end of the day before they reset to the day’s lesson.

Social-Awareness

  • Give opportunity for students to learn about and celebrate their own and other cultures.

    • World Language Example- Projects on Spanish speaking countries

Relationship Skills

  • Team Building Activities. Give the students a chance to showcase the ability to get along and make meaningful connections with others.

    • World Language Example- After a reading activity, pose questions that will all students to discuss conflict and resolutions from the reading. See examples questions below:

      • What is this story’s main conflict?

      • What do the main characters want to happen?

      • How can the characters work together to make everyone happy?

Responsible Decision-Making


  • “What Would You Do” Activity? Educators try to provide students with skills that will help them out of school in the future. This activity provides students with an opportunity to problem-solve regarding scenarios that a teacher provides them.

    • Health Example- Students reflect on putting themselves in a scenario regarding peer pressure and how they may feel and handle that situation.

The Importance of Teaching Academic Language Through Context

Social language and academic language are equally important for the success of ELLs in school. Social language is often learned first and is used most often by ELLs. It is the language learned in everyday social conversations with peers, family, friends, and colleagues. It isn’t as complex as academic language but it still can take some time to master. Academic language, however, is more complex and is constantly changing depending on the theme and context needed within each discipline. Academic language is the language learned in each content area, theme, and even trade. It is the language specific to making sourdough bread for example, or the language specific to playing hockey, or even the language needed to talk about Romeo and Juliet. Each context has specific academic language that is necessary for the comprehension of that particular skill, book, or trade.


One of the more useful scaffolds when teaching ELLs is to pre-teach new vocabulary. Pre-teaching vocabulary is more effective when tapping into a student’s prior knowledge. When prior knowledge is accessed, a student can make connections that are important in understanding the meaning of new vocabulary. This is more useful than giving students a list of words to memorize. Vocabulary becomes more meaningful, hence more comprehensible.


An important scaffold to use when teaching academic language is to use the new vocabulary in context. When teaching vocabulary through context, a student creates meaningful connections in addition to accessing prior knowledge. A student is able to not only hear the word but also use the actions associated with certain words. For example, when making bread, the student gains an understanding of the academic language associated with the bread-making process such as letting the dough “rest” or “proofing” the dough. Teaching academic vocabulary through context helps students not only gain new words but also gain new meanings to words as well.

Dear Data Guy

Most of us have applied for a loan during our lifetime. The first step in the process of applying for a loan is to check your credit score. Some people are shocked when they check their credit score because they thought their score would be higher. I mean we all pay our bills on time, and the mail always gets there on time for payment. It takes endless calls to try to fix a bad credit score. I write about this because I have seen K-12 students get a lower score on a state assessment or local assessment and then the student is subsequently put into a special program that she or he might not need. I bring this up to emphasize the importance of gathering good data (fidelity) and exercising your professional judgment to dig deeper when making placement decisions. Just as we can be financially impacted by a bad credit score, we don’t want our students educationally impacted by one score. As we learned during our RTI training this month, we must also consider a student’s executive functioning (performance in the classroom), multiple measures, and curricular gaps before making decisions on student placement or programming.


Culturally Responsive Arts Education

During our November in-service our presenter spoke to us about Culturally Responsive Arts Education. We know that the arts are an excellent vehicle to incorporate students' cultural background knowledge to build new knowledge and skills.


As we continue to develop our lessons, consider the following reflective questions:


Do my lessons...

  • include student-created questions and consider students' background knowledge (of the lesson/current unit)?
  • integrate opportunities for student reflection?
  • allow learning experiences to be customized in connection with the students' homes/communities?
  • encourage students' perspective-taking and empathy toward people from backgrounds, cultures, and contexts different from their own?
  • promote high expectations for all students based on the 2020 Visual & Performing Arts Standards?
  • use materials reflective of diverse cultures?

As our presenter shared with us....."The student artists we serve bring the legacy of their race, culture, and perspectives of the world into our classrooms. In what ways do we leverage their knowledge and passion throughout their learning journey?"

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Earlier this month I had the privilege of facilitating a panel discussion for one of my professional organizations. The topic was Cultivating Educator Efficacy. During the session, panelists were able to share their own experiences about positively impacting student learning and supporting teacher leadership.


The final portion of the panel referenced the November 2021 edition of ASCD's Educational Leadership. The edition reminds us of the many ways educators can become involved and/or empower others. Initiatives such as (but not limited to):


  • Instructional Improvement;
  • Coaching/Mentoring;
  • Collaborative Professional Learning Approaches;
  • Data Collection;
  • Cultural Competence;
  • Culture-Building Strategies.

Which of the aforementioned initiatives resonates most with you? Why?


Perhaps you are already doing this work and do not realize it; perhaps there is a colleague in your school/department that does this work and you need to take a moment to thank them/recognize them for their efforts.


If you are interested in reading further about the information noted, click here to access ASCD's monthly publication.

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

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K

Bob Pispecky, Interim Art and Music

Laura Leidy-Stauffer, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science & ESSA Grant