6-12 Curriculum Newsletter

February 2019


As we plow through the last few weeks of winter (pun intended), please take a few minutes to read our February newsletter. In it, you will find lots of tips and strategies to help jump start your lessons this spring. Enjoy!
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Why Arts Integration?

Arts integration has become common practice in many classrooms across the country, but many teachers still don’t understand the concept. New Jersey defines arts integration as "an interdisciplinary teaching practice through which non-arts and arts content is taught and assessed equitably in order to deepen students’ understanding of both." Research studies have revealed the benefits of arts integration, including: improved academic achievement, student social emotional development, teacher practice, and classroom culture.

Successfully implementing arts integration does not require artistic talent from teachers or students; after all, the practice isn’t meant to create artists, it’s about nurturing a whole individual. Teachers are encouraged to innovatively merge art concepts with other contents and engage students in authentic, hands-on, real-world experiences that demonstrate understanding in ways such as dancing, painting, or dramatization. Emotional safety is key to the process, and everyone's voice must be welcomed and valued. Teachers should model vulnerability, the willingness to take creative risks, and also be prepared to shift their expectations of what an orderly, productive space might look like.

To get started, follow the steps below:

  • Select one arts standard and one of another content area

  • Explore essential questions and big ideas that are common between the standards

  • Develop a project that investigates the standards while incorporating critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity

  • Consider the outcomes:

    • what are the end goals and objectives?

    • what data collection methods will analyze student comprehension?


Award and Scholarship Opportunities!

Check out these awards and scholarships offered by The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY)

Coming Soon! ACCESS for ELLs

ACCESS for ELLs is a state assessment administered annually to K-12 ESL students across New Jersey. It is available for Kindergarten students in a paper-based format while Grades 1-12 complete the assessment online. This assessment measures students’ academic English language in four language domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Students’ ACCESS scores reflect proficiency levels ranging from Level 1 (Entering) to Level 6 (Reaching).

Our district’s testing window is February 25 - March 15, 2019. Elementary students begin testing on February 25 while the secondary schools begin March 4.

To help prepare our ELLs for this assessment, provide as many opportunities for students to listen, speak, read, and write. Last year, we did not perform as well on the speaking test because students have to record themselves to answer question prompts. As a result, our department has increased online speaking tasks through the use of Flipgrid and Seesaw. Please join our efforts by providing similar opportunities for our ELLs. For additional support, please visit our HTSD ESL Department Google Site, WIDA’s website and contact your school’s ESL teacher.

Tips for Surviving the Mid-Winter Blues

February might be the pit of the school year in some ways, but it can also be a turning point. It’s reinvigorating to pay closer attention to the growth your students show, to break out of stale cycles and to better meet your students’ needs. Here are a few ways to finish the year strong:

  • Reflect and renew - consider setting a new goal to take you through the year.

  • Chunk your time - divide the rest of your year into manageable portions to alleviate stress and help to prioritize tasks.

  • Don’t go it alone - make a plan to share ideas in both your own school and the larger education community.

  • Make a teacher mission statement - know who you are as an educator to help make the coming months authentic and meaningful.

In the coming months make time for self-care, think about what you need, and reflect on what you do and who you are as an educator. Remember, you’re doing important work, so keep calm and teach on.

Engaging in Argumentation from Evidence

Each day we are faced with a barrage of claims and counterclaims in the news and social media. All too often, an opinion is presented as fact, supported by data that is either misleading, out of context, or just false. How can we and our students discern fact from fiction? The answer is by engaging in a rigorous, evidence-based critique of ideas, using authentic data and real-world scenarios. Taken from the Latin arguer—to make bright or enlighten — argument is central to scientific progress.

Accepting ideas and explanations requires us to assess the reliability, relevance and validity of the data, and ultimately decide which explanation is the most reasonable. Knowing why the wrong answer is wrong can help students gain a deeper and stronger understanding of why the right answer is right.

Science is a body of knowledge rooted in evidence and students must learn to create and evaluate arguments using evidence and logical reasoning. Through critical discourse, they are challenged to distinguish opinion from evidence.

Feedback Chats: A Peer Feedback Approach

Feedback in the classroom is an important aspect of student learning, whether it’s provided by the teacher or a peer. It should be timely, tied to a goal, and lead to the improvement of one’s work and/or growth. Too often, feedback is not used by students to improve their work because it is provided after the fact. Other times, feedback is provided to one or two students through a whole class share. Next time, consider utilizing peer feedback to provide timely guidance to all students. Peer feedback can create more of an engaging activity where students are taking an active role in this collaborative and social process.

The feedback provided to the student should be able to answer the following three questions:

  1. What am I trying to achieve?

  2. How much progress have I made so far?

  3. What should I do next?

One peer feedback approach to consider is a Feedback Chat. This method provides students with a structured way to have a meaningful conversation where students provide feedback focussing on a specific goal. Here are two sample Feedback Chat documents compliments of educator and learning consultant, Tony Vincent. *

Feedback Chat (print version): This version is meant to be copied double sided with the Tell-Ask-Give sentence starters.

Feedback Chat (digital version): This version allows the student to document their conversations digitally.

*These forms are not meant to be completed independently, but rather to serve as a way for students to document their “Feedback Chats."

5 Easy Ways to Spark Engagement in Today’s Lesson!

There are several techniques teachers can use during a lesson to boost curiosity and engagement among students—especially older ones, who are at greater risk for losing interest.

1. Capitalize on wait time. Pause after asking a question: Rushing through questions and answers doesn’t help students. Taking an answer from the first student whose hand shoots up means others may abandon the question before they’ve truly processed it. With increased wait time, most -- if not all -- students will consider how they might respond to a question, and responses will be more substantive.

2. Craft fewer—but deeper—questions: When posing questions, aim for those that don’t have an undisputed yes or no answer or rely on simple fact recall. Try asking questions that begin with “What if” or “How might.”

3. Introduce controversy: Debating an issue is a great way to become invested in a topic. This is true not only in current affairs, but in literary and historical analysis. You might pose questions such as, “Why do you think the character responded as she did?” or “Explain why you agree or disagree that President Johnson should have been impeached.”

4. Explain what’s in it for them: Students must see why content is important to them, how they might use it later in life, and/or how people use it in the real world.

5. Encourage collaboration: With the right guidance, collaborative small-group work helps students at any age build social skills while obtaining knowledge at the same time. Click here for some strategies you could try today.

What Does Group Talk Sound Like?

Educators are always looking for new ways and strategies to further engage their students and encourage group talk. The fact of the matter is that many students WANT help but don’t know how to ask for it and many students are willing to OFFER help but don’t know what to say. Here are a few prompts for leaders and for those who may struggle or might need some guidance to help promote more authentic classroom conversations.

Phrases for Leaders

  • Maybe you can try…

  • What worked for me was…

  • Can I show you my steps?

  • I see you're stuck. Do you need help?

  • Did you try doing_______?

  • Where are you stuck?

  • How can I help you?

  • The first step I did was…

Phrases When Struggling

  • How did you?

  • Why did you__?

  • I am not sure why you______.

  • Can you slow down please?

  • Can you explain to me why/how?

  • The part I’m stuck on is__.

Dear Data Guy

How can I tell if my students are chronically absent?

Chronic Absenteeism is defined as any student who is absent for greater than 10% of the school year, or about 2 absences a month. At this point in the year, a student who has 12 or more absences is on track for labeled as chronically absent. Any student who has 8 or 9 absences right now would be considered at risk. Most parents and teachers do not know that only religious holidays do not count as absences. A doctor’s note for an illness does not excuse the absence.

Where can I find my student’s absenteeism data?

All teachers are able to see their student absences in PowerSchool. We also have the total number of absences for each student for the last two years in Linkit!. Your school’s yearly chronic absenteeism data can be found on the School Performance Reports home page.

Additionally, our school district is the beneficiary of the All Kids Thrive Grant through the Princeton Area Community Foundation to help keep kids in school. Two organizations were awarded grants to help us combat chronic absenteeism. Check with your building principal or your “Be There” team for more information.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

It is hard to believe it’s almost March…

Before you know it, we will be administering state assessments. In addition to making sure you are “on target” with the curriculum, I encourage you to also reflect on the following assessment design questions:

· Are my assessments rigorous enough?

· Will the state assessment be the first time my students see a complex question/problem?

· What assessment simulations have I put in place throughout the school year (thus far)?

· How often do my students read, write, and/or solve problems on a computer?

· What conversations do I need to have with my students (about state assessment design)?

· How have I modeled test-taking strategies for my students?

· What information do I need to share with families regarding state assessments?

· Other?

Just some food for thought…

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Mayreni Fermin-Cannon, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K, ESSA Title Grants, & Family Engagement

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEAM

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