Humanities Happenings

Winding down from the fall - Gearing up for the spring

I wish...

I wish this SMORE could be delivered with a personalized note for each of the teachers of Humanities in GCISD. I wish it could convey the gratitude I have for the work you do every day with children. I wish the world knew how hard you work and how exhausting it is to design engaging instruction with a million competing interests, manage the paperwork and outside expectations of being an educator, continue growing professionally, juggle personal lives, and stay "present" for students. I wish I could give you more than a SMORE for Christmas, but please know that it comes with sincere gratitude and admiration.

This is an incredibly busy year in all facets of the Humanities Department. GCISD is at the mid-point in our LEAD 2021 efforts; it is a pivotal time. This newsletter contains a recap of many updates around the district. Take a few moments at your leisure during the break to see all that is being done to ensure that the mission of GCISD Humanities is closer to being accomplished.

Blessings to you and yours.

Suzanne Newell

The mission of GCISD Humanities is to instill a capacity for communication, empathy, and citizenship through critical thinking, reflection, and appreciation of diverse viewpoints.

K-5 Humanities Curriculum Redesign and Development

A massive overhaul to the ELA and SS curriculum documents is underway in preparation for a fall 2016 implementation. This work involves one teacher per campus per grade (66 total) along with instructional coaches and campus leaders collaborating on several days of design and resource development. The goal of the work is to find as many logical connections between reading, writing, and social studies as possible within the TEKS for each grade and design units of instruction drawing upon these connections. The model for instruction will be reading and writing workshop along with Cornerstone Tasks serving as culminating demonstrations of knowledge and skills in all areas.

See below for a glimpse into the work we've been doing.

Middle School ELA Electives

Students are doing AMAZING things across the district in their ELA Elective classes. Take a look at this book trailer created by Hazel in Mrs. Pelt's Young Adult Literature class at HMS. GOTTA SEE THIS!


GCISD Book Challenge!

View the Book Challenge mid-year SMORE for more information and resources for helping students/adults pick their next good read.

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Learning Opportunities

Check out a great book!

Dr. Newell has a closet full of some of our most important departmental professional resources. Shoot her a message if you'd like to borrow any of the following (she might even schedule a time to meet you during the holidays if you'd like to read during the break):

Book Love, Penny Kittle

Write Beside Them, Penny Kittle

The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller

Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller

The Reading Strategies Book, Jennifer Serravallo

Conferring with Readers, Jennifer Serravallo

Readicide, Kelly Gallagher

Jeff Anderson's entire collection of books (4) on teaching writing. These are fun, accessible, and immediately applicable to teachers in any content area... and just a hint... he MIGHT be a guest at this summer's Humanities Summer Institute the first week of June!!

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Get lost in a good TED talk. A few favorites are:

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work (his book, The Happiness Advantage, is also awesome!)

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation (his books are great too!)

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity (he also has several great books)

Get lost in the TEDed lesson site. Pay close attention to the sections on Literature and Language or Social Studies.

Travel and Learn

Some specific opportunities that extend beyond the boundaries of our district are shown below. The holiday break might be a good time to apply for some of these programs...

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (February 29, 2016 deadline)

The National Endowment for the Humanities Educational Programs (March 1, 2016 deadline)

6-12th grade Unit Design Collaboration

This year, the expectations for 6-12th grade teachers to participate in unit design collaboration with their team has been in place. New templates have been prepared for all grades to use for their units this year (ELA and SS, grades 6-12). The templates are housed in a common folder in order to allow teachers from across the district to see how colleagues are designing units - sharing ideas and building alignment into our instruction. (ALL second semester templates are complete and ready for teachers to use!!!)

A few campuses/grades have been more focused on completing the templates in the folder this year, and the results they've shared have been encouraging. Some GMS teachers recently relayed that these have led to some of the best instructional planning they've ever done. A few campuses are taking our department up on the offer to cover the cost of subs to invest the time in unit design planning this year. (The first year of any new process takes longer [and is more painful] than subsequent years.) If your teams would like to do this in the second semester, please jot your info on this form. We'll send you sub codes and make plans!

Related to the issue of unit design is the effort to align semester exams in Humanities courses. This year, all middle schoolers took common semester exams in ELA and SS. Some high schoolers took common exams in English, and next year, we'll move to common exams in high school Social Studies. All of these efforts are designed to bring greater consistency to the access students have to an aligned written, taught, and tested curriculum. The common exams also serve as STAAR benchmarks (in applicable grades) and are thus saving time previously used for administering separate benchmarks and semester exams.

The screencasts below can walk you through either the ELA or SS templates and the components thereof. Completing every box of the templates IS NOT THE GOAL. The goal is to spend time with PLTs considering the end goal of the unit and mapping out a plan to teach the requisite skills and knowledge to get there in a way that utilzes best practices and common instructional expectations.

SS Unit Design Template Update (Sept 2015)
Unit Design Document

K-12 Adopted Social Studies Materials

New K-12 Social Studies adopted materials - For the first time in 13 years, the state has provided funding for new SS instructional materials. The arrival and integration of materials have been a bit more challenging than would have been ideal, but overall, the quality of materials has been an enormous upgrade over what we've used in the past.
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Newly Restructured Literacy Intervention Services - Dyslexia and Reading Support

New Literacy Intervention Model - A fairly drastic restructuring of the teaching assignments and roles of our interventionists took effect this fall. The three main priorities of the K-5 aspect of the model are: to provide therapy to students identified with characteristics of dyslexia, to provide literacy intervention to non-dyslexic students in need of support, and to provide support for classroom teachers to strengthen Tier I literacy instruction. The efforts in 6-12 involved educating staff members and increasing the instructional support to students through both assessment, accommodation, and therapy.

Learning Commons - Libraries Redefined

Research has consistently shown that schools with the most vibrant, interactive, collaborative, well-used library spaces have higher scores on many standardized measures. Libraries are no longer simply places to go browse for a paper copy of a book. Rather, they should be the most active space in the school with opportunities for individual reading, small group collaboration, tinkering with makerspace materials, whole group instruction, a plethora of online resources, and a professional educator eager to help students access any information they might need.

Many of you took your campus Learning Commons survey at the beginning of the year. Librarians have reviewed this feedback with campus leaders and are working on areas in need of growth. The survey will be given again later this year. Please take advantage of the services in your Learning Commons and tap into the expertise of one of the most helpful people in your school!

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Student Voice Invitation

Check out the recent article on Student Voice. It's not to late to join the pilot. Email Dr. Newell to get more information.