Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

September 2021

Hamilton Township School District

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Social Emotional Learning & Arts Education

Addressing student learning and social emotional needs is essential to both the, "short-term response to the current pandemic and our long-term commitment to educational equity and excellence."

Now more than ever, our students need guidance with the five main competencies focusing on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills. The arts create amazing opportunities to integrate social emotional learning into daily practice. In the September edition of Arts ED NJ, the reader is reminded of the following regarding arts education:

  • "Purposeful integration of SEL into arts education will enrich the students' personal connection to the arts."
  • "The relationship built between arts teachers and students over multiple years of instruction fosters the caring environment necessary to help build school connectedness and foster empathy."
  • "The perseverance needed to dedicate oneself to artistic excellence fosters resilience both in and out of the arts classroom."
  • Artistic creation fosters self-awareness and allows students to develop a greater sense of autonomy and emotional vocabulary."
  • The collaborative community developed in the arts classroom welcomes discussions and an awareness of acceptance and embracing diversity."
  • Through the arts, students learn the necessity of personal goal-setting, self-assessment, and accountability as they develop high standards for their artististic endeavors..."

As you see from the statements noted above, the arts are more than just the extras in the curriculum; they (along with other curricular areas) allow students to become the "whole child" and continue to prepare for the real world.

Planning Technology for In-Person Instruction

In a recent publication of Educational Leadership, readers were reminded of the various online tools teachers relied on during hybrid/remote instruction. In fact, "the wider adoption of tech-infused instructional practices has put all members of a school community in a position to have deeper conversations around technology integration than might have felt possible in the past."

While we may have missed in-person experience for the last eighteen months, we should also take a moment to reflect on what had a positive effect on student engagement. As we begin the 21/22 SY, take a moment to think about the statements below:

  • use thoughtful curation for in-class resources;
  • embrace open-ended creation tools;
  • find a faraway partner-in-tech;
  • keep your "tech tool belt" buckled.

There are many online tools that English/Language Arts teachers utilized last year (and found successful). Take some time to think about how you would like to incorporate these tools for in-person instruction. In fact, you may even want to ask your English/Language Arts students what tools they found meaningful and promoted engagement.

Academic Language and ELLs

One of the stigmas for exiting students from ESL is that sometimes a student is lacking in literacy skills or lacking academic language. BICS, conversational language, is what is often mastered quickly by ELLs. CALP, academic language, the language specific to content areas, takes a lifetime to learn. Not only is it theme specific, but also specific to the course being taught. It is content specific vocabulary that is necessary for all students to be exposed to in order to help them get ready for college level texts.

ESL teachers often touch on academic language, however, this language should be taught in context within the discipline being taught where the ELL along with their peers can use it appropriately. General education teachers can help facilitate the process of acquiring academic language by using visuals along with sentence frames/stems to help ELL students acquire academic language more easily. In addition, pre-teaching vocabulary along with the use of realia and other scaffolds are other ways that can help an ELL student expand his/her vocabulary.

Math Learning Goals

Do you hear any of the following when you ask your students what they are learning in math class?

  1. “Nothing.”

  2. “Math.”

  3. “The questions on this worksheet.”

One of your students just asked, “Is this going to be on the test?” How do you respond?

  1. Pretend like you didn’t hear the question.

  2. With an eye roll.

  3. “Everything I say is going to be on the test.”

  4. “Let’s see how what we’re doing is connected to today’s learning goals”

Years of math education research has shown that there is a significant importance to establishing and sharing learning goals for both the students and you, the teacher. Learning goals and learning targets not only help students focus on learning, they give them access to knowing what is important to learn (and what will be assessed) so that they can, in fact, learn what is important.

As you plan your lessons, consider reflecting on:

  • How and when do you use learning goals in your planning and teaching?

  • How do your students use them in their learning?

  • How and when do you use learning targets in your planning and teaching?

  • How do your students use them in their learning?

Bring SEL Into All Lessons

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) provides critical skills for our students in all grade levels. SEL practices help students build relationships, recognize and manage emotions, and problem solve. These are life skills that we all need now more than ever. These best practices can assist across all grade spans and subject areas throughout a student’s day and throughout the school year. Here are some practices that can be embedded into your classroom:

  • Pause and Appreciate- Begin or end a lesson with a moment of gratitude from the day. This is linked to SEL competencies of self-awareness and self-management. This can be done with a one-word SEL check-in and even lead to goal setting.

    • HPE Example- Provide a self-reflection rubric for the students with numbers or emojis to assist in expressing how they feel prior to a PE activity and after.

    • World Language Example- Allow students to complete an SEL Check-in in the target language. Pending on the level, the students can build with more language to express their emotions in reading, writing, and speaking.

  • Individual Check-Ins- Not everyone is comfortable expressing their feelings, especially in a larger group. Utilize the district tools for ways to communicate with a student in a space that may be more comfortable for them. These can be the first steps working towards building a student’s comfort level and work on their relationship skills (ie- Communication, social engagement...). Technology tool examples are listed below:

    • The examples provided below can be used in both a World Language class and Health & PE.

    • GoGuardian- Message a student directly during class without bringing attention towards them. This may be a more steady approach to a student that may be closed off and not ready to share how they are feeling.

    • Google Classroom or Gmail- Did a student not respond during class? Email them or send them a direct message on Google Classroom to check in on them and do an individual check-in. This is a big step in letting the student know that you noticed and care.

    • Pear Deck- this popular application has a section of slides specific to SEL. This allows check-ins throughout the entire lesson no matter the subject area.

  • Optimistic Closures- Use SEL in a closure to not only reinforce the lesson but allow the students to feel confident in what they learned and what they will learn in the upcoming lessons.

    • The examples provided below can be used in both a World Language class and Health & PE.

    • Still Curious- Provide a comfort level for your students that will allow them to share if they are confused or still curious about the topic that was discussed that day. An exit ticket may ask a question to check for understanding, but it is also meaningful for the students to share what they did not understand. Not everyone likes to share that they are lost or do not understand the lesson. Using the wording “Still Curious” allows the students to share because they are curious, and not confused.

    • One Word Share- Provide a prompt and ask all students to provide one word to reflect on the day’s lesson. This allows all students to participate and provide an expression before the end of the lesson.

Facilitating Critical Conversations In the Social Studies Classroom

When studying, Social Studies teachers and students often examine past and present human behaviors and interactions. These behaviors and interactions can provide potentially rich topics to discuss in the Social Studies classroom. Teachers are a critical resource in assisting our students when they are navigating our complex world. The Social Studies class is a place where students can learn more about the historical context of challenging issues and consider different points of view. Many of these issues involve things like personal values, race, ethics, stereotyping, etc. This can often be a challenge for the Social Studies teacher. According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), "Students should be encouraged to examine alternative interpretations of the discrepancies between ideals and realities in the life and history of the United States."

It is imperative that we, as educators, assist students in exploring these various topics. One way that this can be accomplished is by providing a classroom environment that encourages open and informed discussions. Learning For Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance) published a guide called Let’s Talk: Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students. This guide is broken into two main parts. The first part deals with laying the foundation for facilitating critical conversions in the classroom. This is done through self reflection while setting a strong foundation through developing values based classroom management techniques. The second part of the guide discusses strategies to use before, during, and after planned discussion about critical topics in the classroom. The strategies provided in this guide assist teachers in laying the foundation to facilitate tough classroom conversations, inform them how to gauge the “emotional temperature'' in the classroom, and instruct them how to debrief at the end of class so that students can reflect on their learning experience.

Here are three additional resources to assist educators in facilitating critical classroom discussions:

Do More By Teaching Less

Our definitions of teaching are rooted in an old factory model of education, in which the teacher delivers knowledge directly to students, who listen passively and learn.

While methods may have shifted to be more interactive, these strategies are just more creative ways to get students to match the thinking of the teacher. Students who are successful in this model often fail to develop the capacities to create, collaborate, connect, and problem-solve.

In practice, teacher talk tends to go on too long, and behavior issues are often students just reacting to the difficulty of remaining passive for so long.

Teacher talk doesn't mean students are learning, so why not cut down on teacher talk, and increase time for students to be doing meaningful work that engages their minds?

We should move towards designing learning experiences that directly involve students with compelling content. Take time to observe students working collaboratively. Have conversations with them about how it's going, what they notice, what they find challenging. Afterwards, ask students to write reflectively on what they did, what they noticed, what they learned, what they wonder, how it connects to something else they see or know.

End the lesson by making time for students to share their reflections and having a discussion, in which students speak the majority of the time.

Dear Data Guy

I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work for the Hamilton Township School District. In my position, I am able to work across all schools and departments and have met some truly incredible educators/people. I really do mean that, and this year proves more than ever why the staff is truly incredible and resilient. Here are some tips to help communicate data to your families:

  1. Call parents or talk to parents/guardians who pick up their kids and let them hear how passionate you are about teaching their child.

  2. When giving feedback to parents/guardians about their child, give two positive statements, and one statement explaining what you are working with the child and how the parents/guardians can work on with their child at home.

  3. Explain/show through the data how their child has grown through the benchmark data. Some students may have grown their overall score, while some students might have grown on a subscore.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Welcome Back to the 21/22 SY!

Planning and preparation continue to play an important role in the delivery of instruction. As mentioned in a previous email, Danielson's Domain I (Planning & Preparation) will be included in formal classroom observations (announced and unannounced) during the 21/22 SY. Staff are encouraged to continue to familiarize themselves with the individual components. Here are few reflective questions to strengthen your understanding of this domain:

Component 1A - Demonstrating Knowledge of Content & Pedagogy

  • When designing my lessons, how do I anticipate addressing student misconceptions?

Component 1B - Demonstrating Knowledge of Students

  • What steps have I taken to acquire specific knowledge about students in my class?
  • Does this knowledge also include special needs, interests, and cultural information?

Component 1C - Setting Instructional Outcomes

  • How are my instructional outcomes differentiated for individual students?

Component 1D - Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources

  • In addition to physical resources, what role will instructional platforms play to strengthen student learning and engagement?

Component 1E - Designing Coherent Instruction

  • What activities (within the lesson) will promote student choice?

*Component 1F (Designing Student Assessments) will not be formally scored this year.

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum & Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEM/STEAM

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, ESSER III Pre-K

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Robert Piskpecky (Interim), Visual and Performing Arts