Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

December 2020



Big picture

The Importance of Language Testing ELLs

English Learners, like all second language learners, need time to acquire language. However, being able to decipher whether or not progress made is typical of most ELs similar to a student in grade, age, level, and background, may help to determine whether or not the student may or may not have a disability. The ability to recognize whether or not an English Learner is having difficulty with language or whether it is a disability, is growing. Language consortiums such as WIDA are putting particular emphasis on how to decide the difference between language and disability, particularly under ESSA and new guidance set forth with the Less than Four Policy.

One of the ways to determine the difference between language and disability is to test the student in their dominant language. If a child is not tested in their dominant language, then what is actually being tested is language proficiency and not academic ability. This is why it is important when it comes to language testing in determining what is the child’s dominant language.

If a child is classified as an ELL student, it is expected that the child will make typical progression in language acquisition as measured by an annual language test. WIDA’s ACCESS 2.0 is the test chosen by the NJDOE to determine the progression ELLs make each year in 4 language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. If there isn’t typical progression being made, then other factors should be considered to determine why. It is important to monitor the progress of each language domain so that if disabilities are present, they can be caught early.

The Importance of Math Talks

Nancy Anderson, one of the authors of the book entitled, Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, suggests that teachers instruct their students on the importance of and expectations for mathematical conversations throughout the school year. She explains how talking like mathematicians can enable students to be stronger mathematical thinkers.

Here are a few key components for meaningful mathematical conversations:

  • Talking and thinking together can help all students understand math better

  • It is necessary for more than one person to help solve challenging problems

  • There is a great deal to be learned from listening to how others think

  • Talking about your thinking helps you to clarify your own thoughts

  • When talking about the mathematics, you practice using important math vocabulary

  • You can learn a great deal about what it takes to understand the ideas of others

Let’s Reboot into 2021

December is an interesting month for everyone in education. That is an understatement for 2020. With a much deserved winter break around the corner, there can be various distractions for students. Let us make the road to 2021 a meaningful one, with great tasks (for the teacher) and activities (for the class) that lead into the new year. Here are a few ideas:

Health and Physical Education Teachers

  • Set personal, educational, and group goals for 2021. Involve your students in the process as well. It is nice for them to have some accountability for their own learning and where they would like to improve as well. This strategy works well when covering lessons that focus on health related fitness skills (Cardio-respiratory endurance; Muscular strength; Muscular endurance; Flexibility; and Body composition). Students, and teachers as well, can set a group goal on improving one of these areas by tracking progress of any of the Health Related Fitness skills via their PE Fitness or activities charts. This practice is not only good to start off the new year, but to carry over into their everyday lives.

World Language Teachers

  • Allow everyone to re-introduce themselves in the target language. With so much to do during the school year, it is easy to forget those meaningful moments of learning the finer details about your students. Utilize Google Meet breakout rooms to allow students to communicate in smaller groups and then share out to the whole group on the new fun facts about their peers. For students that may be uncomfortable presenting live, they can share and respond to peers via Flipgrid.

Social Justice in the Science Classroom

Science education is fundamentally cultural and inherently political. As a result, all students have a right and a responsibility to learn how science has helped create many social inequities over time and how diverse scientific knowledge and practices can promote justice.

Only in more recent times has established science looked to the wisdom and knowledge of indigenous people and brought them into the larger scientific conversation. Examples include:

  • The ice floe knowledge held within Indigenous communities allowed for refinement of global climate modeling. Tribes and Indigenous peoples are engaged in hundreds of such efforts to understand and respond to climate change.

  • The inclusion of Nemonte Nenquimo on the Time 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list. Nenquimo is the co-founder of the Ceibo alliance and a member of the Wairani tribe in the Ecuadorian Amazon. She is a voice and advocate for her community and has helped bring about a landmark ruling that is protecting her ancestral lands from destruction.

In the classroom, we can promote justice-centered teaching and learning by helping students understand that:

  • Throughout human history people have brought diverse experiences and sense-making to their science learning;

  • Decisions made using scientific knowledge are tied to specific values and ideologies. For example giant corporations grow monocrops that are more economical, but small locally-owned farms grow sustainable and genetically diverse crops that are less economical but more resilient to climate changes than the monocrops;

  • Social justice movements in science can help disrupt racial disparities in health and mitigate climate impacts for communities impacted by poverty;

  • The means and ends of learning and teaching should be focused on a commitment to human dignity as well as respect for and responsibility to other living organisms.

Using Choice Boards During Remote/Hybrid Learning

Everyone likes to have choices. Can you imagine going to the pharmacy and only having two shampoo choices? Or trying to pick out the perfect wedding dress from a choice of three?

Typically, choice boards are structured like tic-tac-toe boards, offering a variety of activities. As an added benefit, they foster creativity, provide opportunities for differentiation, and increase student motivation. Depending on what’s included, students can explore new topics, practice skills, or extend their learning. The challenge in creating choice boards is including meaningful work that is rigorous, relevant, and engaging. Always keep your standards in mind as you create activities.

While there are many ways to design choice boards, the following protocol is an easy way to start:

  1. Identify the instructional focus and learning outcomes of a lesson/unit. In other words, what do you want students to know and be able to do by its completion?

  2. Design nine different tasks that meet your students’ various interests, needs, and learning styles. Arrange each task so it has its own grid on the tic-tac-toe board.

  3. Select one required task for all students. This task should be placed at the center of the board. An “X” with five tasks would also work.

  4. Ask your students to complete three tasks, one of which must be the one in the middle. Students should complete their tasks in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal tic-tac-toe row.

For example, after reading a short story in an ELA class, the choice board’s middle square might ask students to submit a written response focusing on a central theme. Choice options might include: a Powtoon telling the story from another character’s point-of-view, a story timeline created on Google Drawings, a Google Slideshow highlighting text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections, a story trailer created on Flipgrid, a open-ended word sort (with annotations that explain groupings), or even a one-pager drawn on good old-fashioned paper.

Remote Learning: Assessments in the Arts

Assessment is an integral part of the artistic process that has the power to increase teacher effectiveness and improve student achievement. Creating authentic assessments is an extensive job that requires in-depth content knowledge, alignment, and reflection. Moreover, assessments must be considerate of inequities related to achievement! During remote learning circumstances, teachers are finding that assessment may come with additional challenges relating to equity for all students.

Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • Decide which state standards are essential and develop methods to cover those standards successfully, no matter what the students’ home situations are. Ensuring your lessons align with the standards will help focus your assessments.

  • Take the necessary time to develop equitable assessments. Plan activities that all students can achieve with the materials at hand and levels of support available. There are many ways to differentiate lessons, from choice boards to writing and research prompts, to creative processes!

* A word to the wise, assessments which are put together hastily may affect the fairness, accuracy, and usefulness of the resulting evidence.

  • As much as possible, prompt creative-thinking skills. You can use the creative process to both formatively and summatively assess your students remotely by producing rubrics which outline clear expectations for students.

    • Formative- Creating a rubric focused on planning helps identify the expectations for brainstorming, researching, sketching, and collecting materials in preparation for creating. When you see students planning, you will be able to support their needs more quickly.

    • Summative- Students can identify their process through documentation, which supports their learning and risk-taking instead of solely rewarding the end result.

  • Consistently provide descriptive feedback

Google Arts and Culture: A Remote Learning Resource

In the current reality of the COVID 19 Global pandemic, students' school experiences have changed dramatically. In addition to virtual/hybrid learning, new schedules, digital platforms, social distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing; students are missing key hands on experiences like field trips. Google has partnered with more than 50 natural history museums across the world to create a catalog of hundreds of interactive stories, photos, videos and virtual tours and put together a section called Google Arts and Culture.

Google Arts & Culture provides students with an opportunity to efficiently and immersively explore museums, get up close and personal access to great works of art, and experience history interactively. Do you want to learn more about the life of Anne Frank? Did you wish you were able to virtually explore her house? Do you have a desire to learn more about Street Art or are you interested in exploring Women in STEM? Google Arts and Culture is an effective resource to make that happen.

Dear Data Guy

How can I improve my students’ attendance?

As we near the middle of the year, it is time to look at attendance data. First check PowerSchool to identify your students' current attendance data. Then check Linkit! for last year’s attendance data. If students are absent 18 or more days in a year, they are considered chronically absent. If students are absent more than anticipated, conference with the student to determine “why”. Come up with a plan to get on track such as contracting with the student/family. Talk to them before break to start the New Year on a good note!

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Our District Book Study has begun!

Over 30 staff members (ranging from support to administrative staff) participated in our first discussion session on December 16th. Participants discussed Chapters 1 and 2 - "Building Awareness and Knowledge." Our next (voluntary) discussion session will take place on Wednesday, January 13th @ 3:45 PM. Continue to look for the book study link in our PD emails; the chapters, themes, and focus questions will always be noted in the digital notebook.

If you want to read/reflect on your own.....that is fine too. We just wanted to make sure that every HTSD employee received a copy.

Enjoy your holidays, rest over break, and have a Happy New Year.

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 & Title I Pre-K

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Danielle Tan, Visual and Performing Arts