Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

October 2021

Hamilton Township School District

How to Give Effective Feedback

“For teachers, as well as students, the most effective evaluation comes from someone who sits beside us and helps us grow.”

-Carol Ann Tomlinson, “The Evaluation of my Dreams,” Educational Leadership, 2012

When checking for understanding, it’s a lost opportunity if we do not communicate feedback. As a teacher, you can provide written and/or verbal to your students. When giving feedback, focus on a specific area to improve upon, and close with a commitment to offer continued support.

Suggestions to improve feedback include:

  • Begin by asking an entry question that announces feedback is about to occur, and prepares the brain to receive it. For example, “I have some ideas for how we can improve our understanding of __________________. Would you mind if I share them with you?”

  • Refer to specific data points, for example, instead of saying, “You didn’t hand in your assignment.” say, “You said you would email me your assignment by 11 am and I still don’t have it yet.”

  • Include an impact statement that identifies the impact of the data point you identified. For example, “I wanted to grade the entire classes assignment at the same time so that I could be as consistent as possible, and I wasn’t able to do that because you didn’t turn it in on time.”

  • Great feedback givers close their feedback with a question such as, “How do you see it?” or “What are your thoughts on this?” The question creates commitment in the feedback receiver because it points the conversation to become a joint problem-solving session.

  • Great feedback givers not only communicate feedback well, they regularly ask for feedback. Research shows that you should not wait to receive unsolicited feedback (push feedback) from your students. Instead you should “pull” feedback from them on an on-going basis.

Digital Citizenship: It’s Not Just a Topic for Computer Classes

Each year, the third week of October is Digital Citizenship Week. During this week educators are reminded to take the time to promote positive digital citizenship skills with their students. Digital citizenship is the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use. According to The Internal Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), “Digital citizenship goes beyond conversations about personal responsibility. It’s about being active citizens who see possibilities instead of problems, and opportunities instead of risks as they curate a positive and effective digital footprint.”

Technology is more integrated in our everyday lives than ever before. As students continue to become more independent with their use of technology, it is imperative that we strengthen our students’ digital citizenship skills to assist them in making good choices. We must teach our students that being a digital citizen is more than just being savvy with technology. It is also about understanding that the digital world is actually the real world. ISTE released five core-competencies that relate to the evolving state of our digital lives. Instead of focussing on what we shouldn’t do, these five competencies state what digital citizens should be doing to be better prepared for the digital future.

Five Competencies of Digital Citizenship:

  • Inclusive: I am open to hearing and respectfully recognizing multiple viewpoints, and I engage with others online with respect and empathy.

  • Informed: I evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of digital media and social posts.

  • Engaged: I use technology and digital channels for civic engagement, to solve problems and be a force for good in both physical and virtual communities.

  • Balanced: I make informed decisions about how to prioritize my time and activities online and off.

  • Alert: I am aware of my online actions, and know how to be safe and create safe spaces for others online.

It is important that we give our students the tools to help them obtain and curate information responsibly and build a positive digital footprint. One great resource for teaching digital citizenship is Common Sense Education. This website offers a variety of lessons, videos, and other resources to assist in teaching digital citizenship at any grade level. So whether it's during the month of October or later in the school year, keep these five core-competencies in mind and try to incorporate different digital citizenship skills so that we can assist our students in becoming better prepared for the digital future ahead of them.

Small Changes to Big Results

There are a number of teaching strategies that are the focal point of why a lesson is successful. Certain strategies that educators use can make a difference in student engagement, classroom procedures, behavior management, and student comprehension. When we as educators reflect after a lesson, we always think of what worked, what did not work, and what we could have done differently. Not every lesson needs to go back to the drawing board. Some just need a small change, and that change may simply be a teaching strategy. Changing that one small teaching strategy can lead to big results in the outcome of the lesson. “Small” is the keyword as that could mean requiring little prep and can easily be implemented. Here are a few examples of small changes that can lead to big results:

  • Student Choice- Choice encourages self-motivation. It gives the students the power that they pick what they are going to complete today. You as the educator can provide multiple options that meet the same objective. Below are examples of allowing student choice with different Google Applications.

    • Health/PE Example-

      • Fitness Plan/Tracker activity. Google Sheets vs Google Slides

    • World Langauge Example

      • Presentational Speaking Task on Cooking- Flipgrid vs YouTube

  • Wait time- communicate with your students on how time will be used in a lesson. Think about how you word your questions and let your students know the routine of the time they have to answer a question or complete a task.

    • Health/PE Example-

      • Provide a visual timer for all students during set activities and let them know about their routine and choices prior to completing their station. Students can complete a 2-minute fitness station or allow 10-second breaks to every 20 seconds of the activity.

    • World Langauge Example

      • Think about what your questions sound like in the target language:

        • Not Providing wait time→ [Student’s Name], what did you notice about the setting of the story and how it changed?

        • Providing wait time→ Students, what did you notice about the setting of the story and how it changed? When you have an answer, put your hand on your chin.

Inspire Deep Thinking in Mathematics

Teachers want students to think about math deeply, creatively and analytically. Instead, what often happens is that students race towards quick solutions. So what can teachers do to support this other kind of thinking in class—the slow, deep kind?

One way is through an instructional routine like “Which One Doesn’t Belong (WODB).” Routines like this give structure to time and interactions. Within the structure, there are opportunities to have time to think deeply and a predictable way to share and deepen thinking with partners and the whole class.

Every time teachers provide a WODB problem, it is important to follow the same structure:

  • Share a prompt with 4 items;

  • Have students think quietly for 1 minute, and then share their thinking with a partner;

  • Have a whole-class share and the teacher annotates student thinking on the board.

The structure of the WODB routine intentionally makes space for deep thinking. Starting the routine with a minute of quiet thinking time allows students the chance to experiment with ideas. Students might try out a few different lines of thinking during that minute. Some of this thinking might dead end in an idea that doesn’t work, which is fine when there’s still time to try out a new idea.

Then, students engage in a partner share, which allows them space to exchange and develop their ideas. Students learn ways to communicate their thinking to someone else. They also have the opportunity to listen to ideas from their partner, and to build off of them in new directions before the whole-class share.

Finally, during the whole-class share, students are able to share their ideas with a larger audience, and to interact with ideas from classmates across the room.

While the routine may seem simple, the opportunities for thinking deeper, making meaningful mathematics connections, and communicating with peers are endless.

Reducing Teacher Talk Time to increase Speaking Amongst ELLs

Teacher talk time is important, especially when teaching new ideas and increasing listening acquisition skills amongst Newcomer ELLs. ELLs also need to develop their speaking skills. Speaking skills are essential for ELLs to use newly learned concepts and vocabulary. It is an important language domain that works to develop and strengthen the other language domains. Ells can strengthen their speaking skills when they are given the opportunity to practice more with their peers and with their teachers.

A teaching environment where students speak more can be achieved by providing students with ample opportunities where they give insight to queries. In addition they can share and utilize prior experiences to make connections to the concepts being taught. Teachers can do this by using more open-ended questions, role playing, think-pair-share opportunities, group discussions, and even having them present their finished projects in class and/or to colleagues.

ELLs get to practice their speaking more when given opportunities to present and/or speak more in class. They can use newly learned vocabulary and ideas in a guided and supportive setting using the teacher and classmates as supports. Increasing student talk time can be achieved by creating a classroom environment that provides opportunities for ELLs to not only speak to their teacher but to present, collaborate, and interact with other students. In doing so, ELLs will continue to develop their skills across all four language domains.

Improve Student Writing with Mentor Sentences

Teaching with mentor sentences is an excellent strategy to use in the secondary ELA classroom to improve student writing. Mentor sentences showcase and reinforce writing skills from published authors in a positive way rather than the traditional sentence correction method.

To make the experience more authentic, select mentor sentences from selections read in class (rather than have students observe random sentences). To find mentor sentences, read student selections with sticky notes handy to mark sentences that model the specific skills you plan to review during the year (grammar rules, literary devices, etc.).

Directions (feel free to edit to suit your needs):

  • Students copy sentence and make a list of what they notice (sentence structure, word choice, grammar rule, literary device, etc.)

  • Teacher points out specific skill to be learned/reviewed

  • Students craft their own sentences using the same structure / skill observed

  • Students share sentences with partner, small groups, or whole class (can also be collected as a Do Now).

  • Students go back to a previous piece of writing (journal responses, essay drafts, etc.) and revise a sentence in the same structure as the mentor sentence.

For more information on this topic and a list of common grammar errors and literary devices, please check out the article in the curricular resources below.

Arts as a Means to Well-Being

Over the last few months, we have been revising our curricular documents to align to the 2020 Visual and Performing Arts Standards (NJSLS). These standards included four main artistic processes:

  • Creating;
  • Performing/Presenting/Producing;
  • Responding;
  • Connecting.

The standards also recognize the importance of lifelong goals (within the arts). As HTSD continues to focus on social emotional learning, we are proud that our standards see "the arts as a means to well being."

  • Artistically literate citizens find joy, inspiration, peace, intellectual stimulation, meaning, and other life-enhancing qualities through participation in the arts (2020 NJSLS).

Data Guy

As educators, we administer many formative assessments during the school year such as tests, quizzes, and benchmark tests. Taken individually, each one provides us with a snapshot of where a student is at during any given time. This month we administered the Start Strong Assessment to students in grades 4-10 for English, 4-10 (ALG, GEO, and ALG 2) for Math, and grades 6, 9, and 12 for Science. This is also a formative assessment. The design of the assessment is such that it contains questions that are based on the skills/standards students learned in prior years. There is a federal requirement to administer standardized tests every year and this assessment meets our requirements for the 20-21 school year. We still will be administering the NJSLA Summative Assessment in the spring to meet the 21-22 requirements for federal accountability. When reviewing the Start Strong data, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Review the test items and think and unpack them. Based on vertical articulation meetings, when would your students have learned the standard, what unit, what grade?

  2. Determine the difficulty level of each question. Would all my students be able to answer this question or only the strongest?

  3. Does the data from Start Strong fall within a pattern of performance I already see in Linkit! for the student or is it an outler? Consider conferencing with your student to discuss the data.

  4. Develop a plan to touch on any standards the students/class struggled with.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

As mentioned in an earlier email to all staff, student data from Start Strong is now available. As you begin/continue to examine this data, please consider the following questions for data review & reflection:

  • What are your initial reactions to this data?
  • What are 2-3 contributing factors that may have impacted this data?
  • What additional (data) is needed as I make decisions to inform my instruction?
  • What part of this data "stands out" and needs further discussion?
  • Steps we (as a grade level/dept) need to take are...
  • Steps I need to take are...

Regardless of your role in the district, please take some time to dive into the "on demand" reports that are located in Pearson Access Next.

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 Pispecky (Interim), Visual and Performing Arts