K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

October 2021

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Developing Executive Functioning Skills In Math Class

Executive functioning skills allow people to control, supervise, or regulate their own thinking and behaving. Executive functioning includes three categories: inhibitory control, working memory, and attention shifting, and cognitive flexibility. Some researchers suggest that executive processes constitute a major characteristic of productive mathematics learning and many studies show that executive function is associated more highly with mathematics than literacy or language. It is important to give young students opportunities in math to develop both deep mathematical understanding and executive function skills for them to be successful later in their mathematical careers.


Inhibitory control, the first category of executive function skills, allows one to keep from acting impulsively. When students are given mathematical word problems such as, “There were six birds in a tree. Three birds already flew away. How many birds were there before some flew away?” students must first control their immediate desire to subtract to solve this problem and instead find the sum.


Working memory, another category of executive function skills, allows students to hold both information in short-term memory and process that information. Students working on measurement problems may have to keep the problem situation in their minds while they perform a computation. They may also need to interpret the result of the computation in terms of the measurement units and then apply that to the problem context.


The third category, attention shifting, and cognitive flexibility include two closely related executive function processes that are thought of simultaneously. These skills allow students to switch attention as a situation requires and be flexible in their thinking. Students may need this skill to count money when they need to count dollars and then switch their thinking to counting pennies, dimes, nickels, etc all work in different amounts. “Guess My Rule” games may require students to switch their thinking as more information is gathered.


By understanding how executive functioning skills and mathematics instruction are related, teachers can begin to incorporate tasks and lessons that help students develop both skills. Executive function skills are vital for the success of students both in life and in mathematics so it is important for young learners to develop these skills early.


Teaching Children Mathematics May 2019

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Effective Independent Reading Strategies

Every student needs the opportunity to read independently every day in order to enhance reading skills and develop a love of reading. An essential component of the literacy block is independent reading. Independent reading is when students have the opportunity to select a book to read that is at their reading and interest level. It is essential that students have the time to practice reading skills in an engaging, low-stakes environment. Students are empowered to practice reading strategies on a text they selected which fosters true engagement in reading.


How teachers structure and set up independent reading has a significant impact on the success of independent reading. Teachers need to plan a specific time during the literacy block where students will be able to independently read, like during a read to self-center. Before asking the students to independently read, teachers must review what independent reading looks like. Setting clear expectations will help students use their time wisely. Review with students how to select books, where they should sit, and how long they will be independently reading. Start with small goals and build up student stamina with independent reading. Students must also have access to books that are at their level either through online platforms or physical books from the school or classroom library.


There are a variety of ways teachers can promote effective independent reading in their classrooms. Here are some tips to support independent reading:


  • Self Assessment on Independent Reading - Ask the students to evaluate their time-independent reading. The students could rate the book they were reading, state if they were able to practice the skill of the day while reading or note how well they used their independent reading time.

  • Read to Self Center - Establish a read to self-center where students will independently read. In the center, have a list of expectations and procedures for students to refer to at the center.

  • Question of the Day: Present the students with a question of the day that they will be able to answer about their independent reading book. This could connect to the strategy of the day or ask the students to share their favorite part of the book.

  • Reading Conferences - Check in with students one on one about their reading. This is a great time to set reading goals with students and provide targeted instruction.

  • Book Talks - Teachers and students can share a preview of a book they read that they enjoy. Collaborate with the school librarian for ideas on new books to the library or popular books students are checking out. Choose a variety of different genres and topics to highlight to interest a variety of students.

  • Book Chats - Pair students together to engage in book chats about the books they are reading. At the end of independent reading, the pairs of students can share information about what they read during the independent reading time that day.

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.

Reducing Teacher Talk Time to increase Speaking Amongst ELLs

Teacher talk time with ELLs is important, especially when teaching new ideas and increasing listening acquisition skills amongst Newcomers. However, 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, ELLs can share prior experiences which are essential in making connections to the concepts being taught. Teachers can do this by using more open-ended questions, role-playing, think-pair-share opportunities, and group discussions. Teachers can even have ELLs present their finished projects in class and/or to colleagues to practice using their Academic language in a safe and guided environment.

Dear 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 outlier? Consider conferencing with your student to discuss the data.

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

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).

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.

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction


Supervisors of K-5 Staff

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K

Bob Pispecky, Interim Art and Music

Laura Leidy-Stauffer, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science & ESSA Grant