CIA Review

From the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

Edition 14 April 1, 2016

Spotlight on Strategies

Reporter's Notebook

When analyzing a situation, it is sometimes difficult to separate facts from thoughts and feelings. Reporter's Notebook is a strategy that will teach students to use explicit evidence to separate fact from feeling. This strategy works well in the midst of an investigation or when all evidence is not yet apparent.

Use this strategy when:

  • considering real or imaginary moral dilemmas
  • separating fact from fiction after reading a chapter in a novel
  • analyzing history to clarify facts and discuss feelings

Click here to download a step-by-step guide or watch the strategy in action below.

Reporters Notebook

Mindset 20/20

In this article in Education Update, Laura Varlas takes stock of how Carol Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset, has been applied in schools. Three critical observations:

  • Effort. Some educators think Dweck is saying they should reinforce effort, not outcomes. Not so! says Dweck: “Our work shows that you can praise the outcome as long as you also talk about the process that led to the outcome… Telling kids just to try hard is not helpful. It doesn’t tell them all the strategies, resources, and input they’ll need to get there.” British educator Chris Hildrew agrees, “If our students fail a test, it’s not helpful to say ‘at least you tried hard,’ because clearly it was the wrong kind of effort.” Better to ask, “What strategies did you use? What didn’t work? What can you do differently next time?” Another approach is giving students commentary on their classwork, saving grades for summative assessments, and working with students to see where they’re at, what they don’t understand, and what they should try next.
  • False mindsets. Some teachers give lip service to the growth mindset but secretly hold fixed beliefs about some students’ ability to succeed. Or they might frown on mistakes rather than treating them as integral to learning, or make the work easier so students won’t have to struggle. Dweck talks about the confusion-clarity cycle: “You get confused when you face something new. Then it becomes clear, and then you are ready to face the next round of confusion and work through that… Often, when kids feel confused about something, they feel like they’re back to square one.” She suggests giving a pretest and using it later to show struggling students the progress they’ve made.
  • Triggers. All of us, teachers and students, are a mix of fixed and growth mindsets, says Dweck. Acknowledge that. Fixed thinking is part of you but it’s not you! She and her Stanford colleagues are searching for what activates fixed thinking – for example, encountering frustration about not having the knowledge or skill to do something well. Washington, D.C. principal Dawn Clemens and her colleagues urge students to train their brains to take a logical rather than an emotional stance toward learning problems: “I need to study these things for the next test” versus “The test was unfair and my teacher doesn’t like me.” And here’s a strategy for working with a student with a negative mindset: give his or her “fixed side” a name (Dwayne) and then use it to convey a growth message: “Let’s see if we can get Dwayne to really listen to this feedback and plan what to do next.”

“Mindset 20/20” by Laura Varlas in Education Update, March 2016 (Vol. 58, #3, p. 1, 4-5), available for purchase at; Varlas recommends Jo Boaler’s website as a good resource for Mindset professional development:

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Five Ways to Build a Strong Relationship With Students Affected by Poverty

It’s heartbreaking to see children who live in poverty struggle in our classrooms. They face challenges on so many fronts that it can be overwhelming to know how to help. But when we’re able to connect with students from low-income families, we can make a difference—a big one.

While home environment plays a role in how children do in school, studies show that for low-income children, school environment matters more than it does for those from middle- and upper-income families. “There is clear evidence that five years of learning from above-average teachers would erase the academic effects from poverty,” says Eric Jensen, author of several books including Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It and Engaging Students With Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement. “Teachers need to know that.”

Jensen suggests five things that all teachers can do to connect with students affected by poverty and help them succeed in their classrooms.

Teach Vocabulary Daily

What you should know:
Often, there is less language spoken in low-income homes—fewer words per hour and less interactive vocabulary. For instance, kids may hear more commands from parents, such as “Have a seat” or “Pipe down!” rather than complex sentences or back-and-forth conversations, says Jensen. As a result, many kids raised in poverty often start school one or two years behind their peers and never catch up if they don’t receive adequate support.

What you can do: Get creative with activities to build vocabulary. For example, try doing a word-of-the-day activity. Give students a sense of control by letting them choose a word from a list you create. Then ask them to do a simple activity using the word, such as writing a question using the word that a partner must answer, or illustrating the word by creating a drawing or collage. You can even offer incentives—like having lunch with the teacher or being able to leave first at the end of class

Make Your Classroom a Stress-Free Zone

What you should know: For children who are surrounded by worries about their parents’ ability to pay rent or having enough groceries, lack of stability can take a toll. The presence of long-term stress can cause children to be angry and snap back at teachers or withdraw and give up. “Teachers who don’t know better interpret this as ‘This kid is a bad seed’ or ‘He or she won’t go anywhere in school,’” says Jensen. Rather than behavior problems, the aggression or apathy may be symptoms of stress disorders.

What you can do: While you may not be able to eliminate chronic stressors like financial issues at home, there are things you can do to avoid students experiencing added stress in your classroom. If you need to reprimand a student, for example, don’t embarrass him or her by doing it in front of the class. And every time you do reprimand a student, try to follow it up by giving the student at least three positive affirmations—like pointing out how well they followed directions or praising them for a correct answer to a question asked. If you sense your class is particularly stressed during the day, take a break during class to show them how to practice mindful breathing, tense-and-release exercises or fluid arm movements.

Treat Your Class Like Family

What you should know: Sometimes children show up at school without a strong emotional base from home and don’t have the social skills needed to work together and develop relationships. At the same time, these kids are often looking for strong adult role models, says Jensen. When teachers give students regular opportunities to work together, it helps build their social status and feeling of belonging, which can be key to staying in school and avoiding cliques or gangs.

What you can do: Try putting elementary students of similar achievement levels in cooperative groups for activities like reading aloud. Each group member takes a turn reading, and the group discusses answers to questions you provide. In upper grades, students can be grouped in teams of five, by their interests rather than achievement levels, to work on longer-term projects, like a recycling plan for the school.

Take Brain Breaks

What you should know:
Not getting enough or the right kinds of food can impact student performance in school. Also, there is an array of health issues that, if left unchecked because of limited resources, can affect a student’s ability to learn and concentrate, says Jensen. Physical activity, however, can help compensate for the behavioral and cognitive issues caused by poor nutrition.

What you can do: If kids are acting sluggish, introduce an energizer to get them out of their seats and moving around the classroom. A simple brain break for elementary students is to have them walk in a line around the room while playing music. In the upper grades, try doing a cross-training simulation by calling out actions for different sports (e.g., catching a football or dribbling a basketball)—you can also let students call out the actions.

Share a Mini Autobiography

What you should know:
Once you are aware of the issues challenging kids in poverty, you’ll be able to think of ways to reach out more effectively. “You have to carry around a little mirror, metaphorically. Always hold it up and think: What could I do differently?” suggests Jensen. Students need to get to know their teachers and understand that they believe in them and genuinely want them to learn.
What you can do:
Leave behind complaints and convey a great attitude by saying to your class: “I love being here. You kids are what I look forward to every day,” suggests Jensen. The teachers kids want to work hardest for are the ones with whom they’ve built relationships. Consider taking even just one minute every week to share something personal about yourself—like what you did with your family over the weekend or your goal to run a marathon. Also, try to find out about your students’ personal lives on a daily basis—ask them about their dreams, family, hobbies and even their problems.

Source: "WeAreTeachers: 5 Ways to Build a Strong Relationship With Students Affected by Poverty." 5 Ways to Build a Strong Relationship With Students Affected by Poverty. 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

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MACUL Takeaways

EDpuzzle - The easiest way to engage your students with videos. Pick a video, add your magical touch and track your students' understanding.

OrangeSlice - A Google Doc add-on tool that inserts a rubric within a student's document. Teachers can select various preset or customizable categories, grade it, and give instant feedback to the student.

Renovating Reader's Workshop with Technology - tons of resources

Tools and Strategies for Differentiation - many ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge using technology tools.

Tiny Techies - using technology in early elementary