K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

November 2019

Big picture

#HTSDPride

Running Successful Learning Stations in your Classroom

One of the best ways to differentiate instruction is through the use of learning centers or stations. What is a learning center or station? It is desks or tables grouped together where students can work together on developing a particular skill, strategy, theme, topic, or academic standard. The students are grouped together based on having a common learning need or goal. A well-designed learning center provides students with opportunities for self-directed, differentiated learning, and can help you meet your students’ unique academic needs. By having these small groups, you are able to meet different student needs in a fun way that isn’t too overwhelming for you or your students.

Here are some tips to help your centers run smoothly while helping students stay engaged and self-sufficient:

  • Set a Purpose - The first step in developing great learning centers is to figure out what skills/strategies you want your students to learn or practice. Centers can be used for any subject but learning and reinforcement should be the focus. Students need to be engaged even if they are practicing old skills.

  • Set Behavioral Goals and Expectations - Be explicit about how exactly they should work together and behave. Stress that the ability to work collaboratively fosters incredible experiences but that centers are a privilege that they must earn with responsible behavior.

  • Keep materials organized. - It's not enough to just keep them in one place, you also need a system for making materials easy for students to find and keep the supplies together after they have been used. Utilize baskets, folders, and totes for easy organization and efficiency.

  • Create & display a schedule. - Assign each student a group to rotate with and center where they will begin and end. Give each group and center a color/shape, name or number to help children know where to go next.

  • Wrap it up - Have students complete a self-evaluation form after they visit the learning center(s). These can provide meaningful feedback to help you assess students’ progress and address their needs.

Engaging the whole class using total participation techniques

Often as educators, we find ourselves posing questions and having a few students raise their hands to share their responses. What happens to the students who never raised their hands or the ones who were not selected? Often times, students often give up thinking because they know someone will give them the answer. We want all of our students to think for themselves, and using Total Participation Techniques (TPTs) can engage the entire class in your questioning! Persida and William Himmele co-authored the book Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. Their focus was towards building cognitively engaging learning practices. They explain how educators can provide higher-order thinking opportunities for an entire class. Here are some strategies you can use right away!



  1. Chalkboard Splash Strategy: This is a no-prep strategy where a question is posed by the teacher. Give students a few minutes to answer the question at their desks, be it in their notebooks or on a piece of paper. This gives them time to reflect and prepare. Then, as they finish, they go up to the board and write their responses down. Once finished, the class can reflect on the student answers. What commonalities do they see?

  2. Appointment Agendas: The teacher hands out a copy of the appointment agenda. Students are to walk around and fill the agenda time slots up with their peers. Both of the students’ names must be in the same slot as 8 am for instance. When working on tasks, the teacher will call out: “Meet with your 8 am slot and discuss the topic”.

  3. Pause, Star, Rank: After an in-depth unit of study, students will pause to reflect on their learning. They will go through their notes and star the notes they feel are most important. Then, they will rank those stars to see which they feel are most important. The teacher can then select a method of sharing: chalkboard splash, appointment agenda, etc.

  4. Feature Walk: This technique is especially beneficial when you have a concept with many features (diagrams, maps, tables, pictures). Place each one of the features in an area of the classroom. Pose questions for students to analyze/think about. Students are divided into groups and together, they go through the stations and analyze them. You can have students respond to the prompts on sticky notes and leave them on a poster set at each station or take it with them on their individual papers.

  5. Hold-ups: This technique can be used with pre-printed cards for early learners (such as true/not true) or students can write their responses on dry erase boards. The teacher poses a question and students write/choose their responses. When they hear hold-up, they will hold their answers up for the teacher to see. This is a great way to see if everyone is understanding the concepts and it engages every student in the classroom.

Math “Rules” That Expire

Teachers want nothing more than to help make things easier for their students. Teachers often use rhymes, rules, and lists of steps to ensure they are explaining things in the clearest and most direct way possible. However, sometimes, in an effort to help students understand mathematics, teachers unintentionally cause students confusion later in their mathematical carer by giving them “rules” that expire. By overgeneralizing mathematical strategies, using imprecise vocabulary, and relying on tips and tricks that do not promote conceptual understanding, students can become frustrated with mathematics. Below is a list of of the top five “rules” taught in the elementary grades that expire.


  1. When you multiply a number by ten, just add a zero to the end of the number. While this may be true when multiplying a whole number by ten, this rule is not true when multiplying decimals. For example, 0.25 x 10 = 2.5 not 0.250. Although this is a pattern that students may recognize with whole numbers, it is not generalizable to other numbers. This rule expires in grade 5 (5.NBT.2).

  2. Use keywords to solve word problems. A quick search on Teachers Pay Teachers will provide hundreds of worksheets, anchor charts, and posters that display the keywords for each operation. This approach is taught in elementary schools across the country. This strategy encourages students to strip the numbers from the problem and perform an operation. One of the main problems with keywords is that they often have multiple meanings. When word problems are absent keywords, students are often left struggling to determine how to solve the problem. Students need to be taught strategies that allow students to make meaning of the entire problem in the context of the situation rather than picking out the numbers and a few keywords. This rule expires in grade 3 (3.OA.8).

  3. You cannot take a bigger number from a smaller number. Students as young as kindergarten are taught subtraction concepts. When students in the younger grades are initially introduced to subtraction, they fail to see how the order of the numbers is important. Because the order of the numbers does not change the solution in an addition problem, students often misapply the same understanding to subtraction. However, when students introduced to integer subtraction (8 - 9 = -1) their misunderstanding of subtraction leads to further confusion. This rule expires in grade 7 (7.NS.1).

  4. Addition and multiplication make numbers bigger. When students are first taught addition they are often told that addition makes numbers bigger. In grade 3 when they are introduced to the operation of multiplication they are also given the same rule about multiplication. This rule expires fairly early in a student’s mathematical career. Adding zero to a number is the first counterexample of this rule. Adding zero to a number does not make the number bigger. When students are introduced to integer operations in grade 7, they are introduced to an infinite number of counterexamples as adding a negative number actually makes the sum smaller. The multiplication rule expires in grade 5 when students are introduced to multiplication of fractions and decimals. The product of fraction times a fraction can be less than both of the factors. The same is true for decimal multiplication. This rule expires in grade 5 (5.NF.4 and 5.NBT.7) and again in grade 7 (7.NS.1 and 7.NS.2).

  5. Subtraction and division make numbers smaller. This rule is first commonly introduced in grade 3. Many teachers tell students that both subtraction and division will result in an answer that is smaller than at least one of the numbers in the computation. When numbers are positive whole numbers, fractions, or decimals subtracting will result in a number that is smaller, however, if the subtraction involves two negative numbers the rule is not true. For division, the rule is true if both numbers are positive whole numbers, however, if the numbers you are dividing are fractions, the quotient may be larger. This is also true for dividing two negative factors. This rule expires in grade 6 (6.NS.1) and again in grade 7 (7.NS.1 and 7.NS.2).


It is important for teachers to help students see patterns, in fact one of the mathematical practices calls for students to “Look for and make use of structure” (MP.7) and “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” (MP.8). It is also important for teachers to be mindful of the “rules” they are giving to students and ensure the use of precise language. Overgeneralizing mathematical concepts can have a deep impact on student understanding. Stay tuned for next month when more “Rules that Expire” will be discussed.

SLIFES/SIFES in Your Classroom

Do you know the educational backgrounds of your ELLs? Do you know their past experiences and how they may have affected their formal schooling and/or present and future schooling?

SLIFES/SIFES are students who come from their native countries with an interruption in their formal education. As the ELL population continues to grow across the US in US Schools, researchers and school districts are looking for new ways to help identify and teach students who come from countries where they may have experienced an interruption in their formal schooling for a number of reasons. These reasons may include but are not limited to civil unrest, poverty, natural disasters, and/or persecution.

In order to ease the teaching and filling in of educational gaps for SLIFE/SIFE students, there is numerous research being done presently to help aid in the process. However, just as it is essential to build relationships with all ELLs, getting to know students’ past formal education is part of getting to know an ELL’s process. Here are some things that can be done to ease language and content acquisitions for these students:

1. Activate prior knowledge – this will help in making connections, stimulate motivation, and help design independent learning plans for SLIFE/SIFE students.

2. Provide lots of visuals – the key to learning any language at any age is to make associations. In order for anyone to make a visual connection to a new language, visuals are essential!!

3. Provide lots of collaborative/cooperative learning – students learn a lot from each other and for ELLs particularly SLIFE/SIFE students, they often are less intimidated and more apt to learn from students that are closer in age, interests, and language. Allowing students to work with each other using these markers as a premise for trust-building will facilitate the acquisition of new material.

Dear Data Guy

I am a little overwhelmed when setting goals for my classroom. The student reports for my benchmarks indicate that the students are mostly one grade level below.


Thanks for the question.


Students who are 1 grade level below at the start of the year are about where they should be because they haven’t learned the grade level material yet. When looking at the data, it is important to dig deeper into your data to determine where the student lies in the performance range. For example, a student who is at the top end of the range of 1-grade level below will need less growth in order to reach his/her target than a student who is at the bottom end of the performance range. Furthermore, students already on grade level should continue to grow and start the next school year on level or mid-grade level.

Big picture

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Interested In Learning About Teacher Leadership???


The College of New Jersey has reached out to HTSD to consider a partnership for the new Teacher Leader Endorsement. Information sessions have been scheduled for after school on Wednesday, December 4th.


During this session, attendees will learn more about the coursework, anticipated HTSD partnership, and Teacher Leader Model Standards. In the coming days, a detailed flyer will be sent to all staff regarding specific session times, location, RSVP information, etc.


Happy Thanksgiving!

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