Watauga Weekly

December 7-11, 2015


Monday, Dec 7

PTA Board Mtg. 7:30 am

7th Girls Basketball vs. Bedford @ WMS

7th Boys Basketball vs. Bedford @ Bedford

Choir Voice Recital 6:00-7:00 pm

Tuesday, Dec 8

Big 12 District Meet

Wednesday, Dec 9

Is your shopping done??? 16 Days till Christmas!!

Thursday, Dec 10

504 - PLC'S

All Day ARDS

8th Girls Basketball vs. Bedford @ Bedford

8th Boys Basketball vs. Bedford @ WMS

Beginning Band Winter Concert 7:00 pm

Friday, Dec 11

Spelling Bee-Library

Staff Holiday Party 7:00-10:00 pm @ Lynn's House!

Is Poverty the Reason U.S. Students Don’t Compare Well Internationally?

In this article in Education Next, Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright (Thomas B. Fordham Institute) examine the proposition that poverty is the major reason that American students’ test scores are mediocre compared to those of students in other developed nations. For this to be true, say Petrilli and Wright, at least two of the following claims need to be established:

- Poverty is related to lower levels of student learning.

- America’s poor students perform worse than those in other countries.

- The poverty rate in the U.S. is substantially higher than comparison countries.

The authors examine each in turn:

Is there a correlation between poverty and academic achievement? Definitely, say Petrilli and Wright. “That’s not to say ‘poor children can’t learn,’” they continue. “It is to say, rather, that there’s long been a clear connection between families’ socioeconomic status and students’ academic achievement.” This is true at the state, district, and school level because financial stress can make it much more challenging for parents to afford books, computer access, educational games, afterschool activities, tutoring, museum trips, summer camps, and other educational experiences for their children outside of school. Poverty is also correlated with a number of other risk factors associated with lower test scores, including growing up with a single parent, lower parental educational attainment, and a higher incidence of alcoholism, drug abuse, and child neglect and abuse.

Do low-income students in the U.S. perform worse than those in other countries? The best available data (which are not perfect, say Petrilli and Wright) are collected by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). They show that the U.S. is right in the middle of the pack with other developed nations – it does equally well, and equally poorly, at teaching its least well-off students and its more-advantaged students. In other words, conclude the authors, “There is no evidence that disadvantaged students in the United States are underperforming other countries’ disadvantaged students. If anything, it is the ‘advantaged’ U.S. students (those whose parents have a high level of education) who are falling short in international comparisons.”

Does the U.S. have a higher rate of child poverty than other countries? A number of experts believe it does, including Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, Columbia University’s Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff, and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (who says that poverty is “the elephant in the room” that accounts for poor student performance in the U.S.). But Petrilli and Wright say these opinions are formed by looking at the level of relative poverty, which they say is more a measure of income inequality and is weakly correlated with student achievement. Taking into account all sources of income and looking at the rate of absolute poverty (which is strongly correlated with student achievement), the U.S. is quite typical by international standards – the rate is lower than Ireland and the U.K, almost the same as Germany, and only slightly higher than Finland. “To be sure, the U.S. still has too much poverty,” say Petrilli and Wright. “But once social welfare benefits are included, and we look at absolute instead of relative poverty, the U.S. is hardly an outlier.” They note that these figures are for the general population; international data for child poverty are not available.

What’s the bottom line? “[P]overty is an issue for every nation on the planet,” say Petrilli and Wright, but “poverty can’t explain away America’s lackluster academic performance. That excuse, however soothing it may be to educators, politicians, and social critics, turns out to be a crutch that’s unfounded in evidence… Why U.S. student performance is mediocre is a topic worthy of study and debate, as is how to help students at all points on the economic spectrum perform better.”

“America’s Mediocre Test Scores: Education Crisis or Poverty Crisis?” by Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright in Education Next, Winter 2016 (Vol. 16, #1, p. 46-52), http://educationnext.org/americas-mediocre-test-scores-education-poverty-crisis/


Auditorium am - Levingston

Cafeteria am - Mila

200 Hall am - Lane

300 Hall am - Pollard

Warrior Way pm - Moriak

Parking pm - Pogue

Using Data in World Language Classes

In this article in The Language Educator, Nicole Sherf (Salem State University) and Tiesa Graf (South Hadley High School, Massachusetts) examine the kinds of assessments used by world language teachers. “The easiest data to collect and analyze are those that are objective and clear-cut,” they say – for example, filling in a missing word in a sentence, choosing the word that correctly conjugates a verb, or listing the right possessive adjective. A typical item:

Elena _______ alta.

a. está

b. es

c. tiene

d. hace

The correct answer is (b), and the item accurately assesses a fragment of Spanish grammar and is quick and easy to score. But, say Sherf and Graf, “the fill-in offers no way for the student to express a message that is meaningful or communicative, or to elaborate on Elena’s other physical characteristics and personality, if, in fact, Elena even exists to the teacher and students.

“[W]e have historically placed far too much emphasis on precision,” they continue. “We have valued correctness over communication, which has led to a focus on form rather than on communication in teaching… If the profession continues to rely on assessment through completion of disconnected, abstract and decontextualized sentences to practice or assess discrete grammar or vocabulary, students will not understand that the ultimate purpose of language learning is communication.”

Language educators can change the traditional dynamic, say Sherf and Graf, “by encouraging our students to have less fear in creating with the language and telling them that errors are a natural part of language learning. If they are not making mistakes, they are not trying hard enough. Taking risks is an important part of language learning… The data we collect and analyze to determine evidence of student growth must be connected to what our students can do with the language.”

For ideas on escaping the quick-and-easy assessment trap, Sherf and Graf harken back to the 2010 ACTFL goal of 90%+ classroom interaction in the target language. There are three key steps in making this happen:

- The teacher speaking as much as possible in the target language, focusing on content related to unit objectives.

- Getting students to speak only in the target language and not responding or reacting to them if they use English. In other words, class discussions are in the target language, not about it.

- Getting students interacting with each other in the target language (asking each other follow-up questions on a presentation, reporting or commenting on their partner’s responses, or providing summaries of their group’s conclusions), with the teacher circulating and monitoring the quality of discourse.

The four criteria used to describe proficiency in this type of exercise are (a) the functions or tasks that are being completed, (b) the various contexts or curriculum content, (c) the text type or level of production, and (d) the level of precision or accuracy.

Sherf and Graf take the third, text type and level of production, and give examples of two levels of proficiency:

- Novice – the learner relies on memorizing words and phrases;

- Intermediate – able to create with the language at the sentence level.

What’s essential is getting students to respond at the sentence level. “From Day One of language learning,” say the authors, “we should be teaching our students how to expand on what they communicate, pushing them to do so, and rewarding them for their efforts at elaborated responses. If they are not encouraged and supported from the very beginning of language learning to include more information and provide strong, solid responses, they will have a hard time moving up the proficiency scale to the Intermediate level.” Students can be encouraged to think about who, what, when, where, and how to add details and use linking words like and, or, with, because, for, then, and next to extend their thinking. In the early stages, quantity is paramount; as students develop proficiency, they can begin to think about how to vary sentence types. Sentence starters like these are also helpful:

- My best friend is ….

- My best friend has….

- My best friend needs….

- I like my best friend because….

- I am with my best friend when….

To assess, teachers can record the number of words written and the amount of time students can talk with each other, and track progress as a unit progresses.

Another way to develop fluency is to have students write a weekly journal entry for a given number of minutes, answering an open-ended question on the context of the unit (for example, in a unit on the family, writing about a favorite family member, a celebrity family, or a made-up family based on TV characters). Students should keep their pencils or pens moving without worrying about correctness, not using dictionaries, and focusing on the message. Students can keep track of their word count, focusing on quantity of writing, and gradually transition to assessing and improving the quality of their entries – for example, the number of connected thoughts, extensions, and elaborations.

To measure students’ oral proficiency at the beginning and end of a unit, Sherf and Graf suggest having students take out their cell phones, dialing a number attached to the teacher’s Gmail account, and using Google Voice to speak for one minute in response to a prompt (for example, in a vocabulary unit on houses, they might be asked to describe their ideal house, or describe what is special about a specific room in their house). Students’ messages are recorded in easy-to-access files in the teacher’s Gmail account. “Amazingly, the recordings are clear and easy to understand even though all students are speaking at the same time,” say the authors. “It is best to give the task to the students and ask them to call immediately during class, offering no time to think through their answers. This trains students to speak spontaneously and to respond to the assignment quickly, an important skill in interpersonal communication.” (Sherf and Graf add that it’s important to remind students to say their names at the beginning of their message.) If cell phones can’t be used, students might use Google Voice, Audacity, or some other voice recording application in the school’s language lab.

“Evidence of Student Learning: A Starting Point for Collecting and Analyzing Data Related to Communication” by Nicole Sherf and Tiesa Graf in The Language Educator, October/ November 2015 (Vol. 10, #4, p. 40-43), http://bit.ly/1SsYBM7

WORD Within the WORD

archy (government) monarchy, hierarchy, anarchy, matriarchal

ard (always) drunkard, coward, dullard, sluggard, braggart

cide (kill) genocide, herbicide, homicide, suicide, regicide

ician (specialist) clinician, technician, musician, beautician, physician

itis (inflammation)appendicitis, tonsillitis, bursitis, arthritis

aqua (water) aquarium, aquatic, aquaplane, aqueduct, aquifer,

audi (hear) audience, audition, auditory, audiometer, audiology

bell (war) rebellion, bellicose, belligerent, rebel, counterrebellion

cap (take) capture, captive, captor, captious, captivate, captivity

cise (cut) excise, incisors, incision, circumcise, incisive, precise

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Tweeter of the WEEK!

Thank you to Travis Irish (@txirish) for his participation in this week's district Twitter Chat.

You can join each Tuesday at 8:00pm. Questions can be found in the Digital Learning News sent by Mark Thomas each week. Questions? See Tosh or Christine. (@birdville_DL)

*** December will be a fun, unique month of Twitter Challenges. Enjoy!***


(Don't forget to send Ms. Houston your Twitter handle when you join.)


HUGE thank you to Barney and crew who cleaned up an absolute DISASTER downstairs when everything flooded on Saturday and had it looking brand new by the time we walked in on Monday. Thanks again, Barney! ~Coach Bates~

Online Tools for Homework and Study Skills

In this New York Times article, Tara Parker-Pope recommends a series of online homework and study aids:

- www.Easybib.com – Students can type in a website or source name and Easybib will automatically generate a citation in whatever style format the teacher requires.

- www.Prezi.com – A cloud-based presentation tool that allows for zooming and panning and can make presentations more dynamic and fun.

- www.Quizlet.com – Students can create flashcards and study guides to review material online or on a mobile device. Created by high-school students in 2007, the site has more than 40 million study sets generated by users.

- www.Storybird.com – This site helps students create a story or poem or present material using a variety of illustrations.

- www.Sparknotes.com – Summaries of literary works with analyses of important quotes, key facts, study questions, essay topics, and quizzes.

- www.HowLongToReadThis.com – Students enter the name of a written work, a timer determines their reading speed as they read a sample paragraph, and they’re told how long it will take to finish the book.

- www.KhanAcademy.org – Brief tutorials on a wide array of topics and grade levels.

- Kindle books – Features include highlighting, vocabulary help, and being able to search a long book for a key passage.

- Google Docs – A group of students can create, edit, collaborate on, and store documents, which can be opened on any computer with an Internet connection. Teachers can add notes and comment on drafts.

“Help with Homework, Pixel by Pixel” by Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times, November 17, 2015, http://nyti.ms/1XaaOM2

What Overparenting Looks Like From a Dean’s Perspective

Excerpted from HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims, published June 9, 2015 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Julie Lythcott-Haims. All rights reserved.

December 1st was "Happy Holidays". Did you participate? These folks did...


  • Secret Santa Week - Dec 14-18
  • Snack Days - Dec 14, 15, 16
  • Choir Winter Concerts 6th gr. 6:00 pm, 7th gr. 7:00 pm-Dec 14
  • Vision Screening 4:00-8:00 pm - Dec 14
  • Band Winter Concert 7:00 pm - Dec 15
  • Student Half Days - Dec 17 & 18
  • Choir Caroling Tour 12:00-7:00 pm - Dec 18