K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

February 2020


Social Emotional Learning and the Power of the Arts

At one time, arts subjects were used to improve school engagement and academic performance, but arts education has become instrumental in fostering social-emotional development in our students. Developmental experiences are at the core of social-emotional learning. Trials and tribulations that are an inherent part of the creative process help students learn to manage frustration. While the arts tend to lead in this regard, teachers must develop activities which promote positive interactions and enable students to effectively process challenges and disappointments in a beneficial way, rather than feeling embarrassed by their experiences. Here are some tips on ways to foster social-emotional learning:

  • Give students the freedom to interpret artistic content through their own experiences and perspectives

  • Lead by example- model empathy. Be committed to kindness and expect students to care about one another. Don’t just post rules – talk about it, model it, praise it, and hold students to it.

  • Share your own artistic failures and ways in which you prevailed.

  • Create safe spaces in which students feel comfortable taking creative risks, exposing vulnerabilities, and being challenged.

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in cycles of creative practice, coupled with self and peer reflection.

Celebrating Health Heart Month

Cardiovascular disease is so prominent in the United States that it is the leading cause of death in men and women. It is so crucial that we teach students about healthy hearts, and with February being National Healthy Heart Month, it is the perfect opportunity to emphasize its importance and teach them ways that they can integrate healthy heart habits into their lives. Here is a list of activities and simple tasks that can be done in your classrooms:

  • Teach students about healthy vs unhealthy food choices.

  • Start every day of your class off by doing a simple activity that can promote healthy heart habits (ie- fitness brain breaks).

  • Offer stress management techniques, such as yoga and meditation.

  • Give heart-healthy facts over during morning announcements.

  • Do daily classroom physical activity breaks. Start small and work your way up (minutes).

  • Host a month-long writing or art contest where students compose poems, letters, stories, artwork, etc. about healthy hearts.

  • Post photos on social media celebrating Healthy Heart Month: #HTSDstrong #(yourschoolStrong)

  • Host a Family Fitness Night and share literature about the importance of physical activity in preventing heart disease.

This Heart Month, you are encouraged to connect with your students in your life and your school community to help ensure heart health remains a priority, not just in February, but all year long!

HTSD Health Night

Monday, March 30th, 5-8pm

1055 Klockner Road

Hamilton Township, NJ

Using Read Alouds to Bring Diversity to the Classroom

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that are real or imagined, familiar or strange. A window can also be a mirror, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”

Rudine Sims Bishop

We know that reading aloud to children is important and that through reading aloud we are able to teach a whole host of skills and strategies to help kids become more confident readers. Another benefit of reading aloud to children is that books are a way to teach kids about the world around them.

We also know that children’s books can act as mirrors and windows to the world. Mirrors- so that they can see themselves in the stories they read, and windows- so that they can peek into the lives of others and develop empathy for those who are different.

Through choosing a diverse read-aloud book you can provide students with those mirrors and windows. They can see themselves reflected in the story or learn about another culture. By having diverse books available in your classroom library that students can read, you are teaching your students about empathy, acceptance, and understanding.

Here a few suggestions for building your multicultural library:

  • Start with what you have. Look for topics that can be covered by your existing titles.

  • Look for books that show people from other cultures in contemporary roles.

  • Avoid books that stereotype cultures or characters as well as those that elevate the status of one culture over another.

  • Look for books that talk about ways that different cultures have influenced American culture.

  • Try to balance your library among many cultures. Don't stay away from a book simply because the culture is not reflected in your classroom. That's a great reason to introduce it to your class.

  • Look for books about ordinary childhood problems- not rooted in historical events or racial tensions– where the characters in the story are diverse. Historical accounts should not be the only books that a student sees in the library that reflect his or her background

  • Include a variety of books written by diverse authors.

  • Ask your students what books they would like to see in the classroom library, and create a criteria checklist for the class to help frame the decision-making process. Criteria could include characters from diverse backgrounds or cultures; settings in different countries; inclusion of words in different languages; or stories written from more than one perspective.

  • Creating a diverse library is an ongoing project and takes time. Collaborating with other teachers and your school librarian is a great way to develop your collection.

What is CRA and Why is it Important?

The world is full of abstract ideas. Even our alphabet and number system are a set of abstract symbols that represent concrete things. The number 5 is just an abstract symbol that represents five fingers, five apples, or any quantity of 5. For the developing mind of a small child, this idea can be very confusing and abstract.

Math is known for being an abstract subject. This is why it is so important to follow the CRA (Concrete-Representational-Abstract) model every time a new mathematical idea is introduced. Manipulatives are not just for the primary grades. They are essential to every math classroom, even the middle grades, and high school. Students need to have a concrete understanding of the mathematical concepts before moving to representational (pictures and models) and then abstract representations (numbers, symbols, equations).

Many students who struggle with mathematical concepts have been rushed to the abstract far too quickly. A majority of students are getting far too little concrete and pictorial experiences with key concepts, and this is a major cause of their lack of understanding. It can’t be assumed students have had the concrete experiences they require to understand the current concepts. Moving through this process too quickly leads to a lack of student understanding and frustration.

The CRA approach must be a part of the remediation process. If a student is unable to master a concept, it is important to fall back to the concrete stage of learning. For example, if a student can’t subtract with regrouping, additional abstract practice -- no matter how great the explanations are -- will not be as powerful as having the student use the base ten blocks to connect the concrete to the abstract.

When moving from the concrete to the representational, students should be guided to use the concrete manipulatives to model the problem and then draw a pictorial representation of the manipulatives. Once students no longer need the concrete manipulatives to draw the pictorial representation, they should begin connecting the pictorial representations to abstract strategies. When students are given the time to work through the CRA process, they are able to effectively learn and remember mathematical concepts leading to improved student understanding.

Accommodations and Modifications for ELLs

Accommodations and modifications are necessary when it comes to teaching English Language Learners. However, sometimes it is difficult to decide what is considered an accommodation and what is considered a modification, especially when it comes to differentiating lessons for English Language Learners. A great tool to use to design accommodations and modifications for ELs is WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors.

When a teacher changes how a student is taught, they are using accommodations to teach the student. In ESL, for example, accommodations can be through the use of visuals, peer tutors, pre-taught vocabulary, manipulatives, and small group instruction. Modifications, on the other hand, are changes in what the child is expected to learn. In ESL, modifications can include being able to copy or complete work that is differentiated for each English Language Learner such as shortened reading passages.

WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors is a great tool to use to differentiate instruction for English Language Learners since it identifies what a student can do at each English Language Proficiency level. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors can also help teachers come up with accommodations and modifications that are tailored to each English Language Learner.

Dear Data Guy

I am beginning to prepare my students for the NJSLA assessments in April/May. What is the difference between an Accessibility Feature and an Accommodation for the assessment?

Good Question:

Accessibility features are tools or preferences that are either built into the assessment system or provided externally by Test Administrators and are available to all students. Accommodations are adjustments to the test format and presentation, timing, or the method in which students respond to test questions that provide equitable access for students with disabilities, students who are English learners, and students with disabilities who are also English learners. Accommodations must be listed in a student’s IEP, 504 plan, or an EL plan. For more information on selecting, administering, and monitoring accessibility features and accommodations, refer to the Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual available on the resource support site.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Our 2020 Winter/Spring PD offerings are up and running. Over the next few weeks we will be offering another round of great sessions. Topics will focus on:

  • Questioning & Discussion Techniques;
  • Virtual Field Trips;
  • Mathematics;
  • Trauma;
  • Art of Comprehension;
  • Mindful Movement;
  • ESL;
  • Kahoot;
  • Hands-On Science;
  • Technology;
  • And even an online mini-course for Google.

Remember to use the single sign-on feature when registering; feel free to contact the Curriculum Office if you have any questions.

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, & Family Engagement

Heather Lieberman, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science

Danielle Tan, Fine Arts