Instructional Office News

Madison County Schools January-February 2015


  • The Power of Words: Addressing the Vocabulary Gap
  • Technology Tip of the Month: Tech During Testing
  • Focusing on What Matters
  • Teachers Making Headlines
  • Spring Testing Calendars
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The Power of Words: Addressing the Vocabulary Gap

Children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, on average, have been exposed to 30 million more words by age three than children from the lowest socioeconomic families (you can read a summary of the research here: Essentially, higher SES parents are talking to their young children more often and using a higher level of vocabulary than lower SES parents. What that translates to for our students is a word gap of nearly 4,000 words for students by second grade. This "word gap" rears its ugly head when our students here in Madison County are responsible for the same level of proficiency with reading and vocabulary as students from wealthier areas of the state.

So, one of the most important ways to build skills that make our students college and career ready is to address vocabulary--not just in language arts classrooms, but across the curriculum. If we know that our students' reading comprehension and ability to grasp the content will be affected by this gap in their exposure to language, it is our shared responsibility to expose them to language.

But, wait! Don't pull out those SAT word lists or start planning weekly vocabulary quizzes just yet! What strategies for teaching vocabulary make the most difference?

In his book Vocabulary for the Common Core, Robert Marzano outlines the research behind teaching vocabulary and then gives his six-step process for vocabulary instruction. It's not rocket science, and many of you probably already use some of these steps and strategies in your classrooms. Here is a brief explanation of each step:

1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.

Notice that it doesn't say "definition." Descriptions and examples that give real

-world context are more useful than dictionary definitions.

2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.

This should be done both with words and non-linguistically--word maps/webs.

3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term or phrase.

Non-linguistic processing (e.g. mental pictures) deepens understanding.

4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of terms.

These are the types of activities that Marzano means: identifying synonyms and

antonyms, comparing and contrasting words, classifying terms or concepts, creating

metaphors, creating analogies, looking at word parts (roots, prefixes, suffixes).

5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with each other.

This helps to uncover misconceptions and helps students solidify understanding.

6. Involve students in games periodically that allow them to play with terms.

Games just make learning more fun (more fun than memorizing a word list):

Vocabulary Charades, Jeopardy, Pictionary, Memory, etc.

Want more detailed information? You can make a flip book of the six-step strategy here:

Technology Tip of the Month

What Technology Can I Use During Online Testing?

Because of the need to preserve access for students who are taking state tests online this spring, we need to be conservative in how we use our bandwidth during test administration times. The Technology Department has generated a list of do's and don'ts for technology use during testing.

Approved for Use During Testing Weeks - April 18 through May 12


Google Classroom - no videos

Infinite Campus


Accelerated Reader

Software that is the only curriculum option in a classroom - for example the reading intervention classes that ONLY use Read180, credit recovery that only uses Grad Point, or business ed classes that require online resources.


YouTube, United Streaming, or any video streaming service – even MediaCast during testing hours

Online Games such as Brain Pop, Cool Math, Hooda Math, and ABCya

Online Learning Activities (Kahoot!, Quizlet, etc.)

Online content such as IXL, Study Island, and Education City

Note: It is always a good idea to download YouTube or other video instructional resources and play them from the download instead of live. This preserves bandwidth AND ensures that you will always have the resources available that you need for instruction - even if the Internet or network is down. There are free tools such as Helper or Off Liberty that allow you to easily download and save videos. You can access instructions for these tools here:

April 18 - May 4 only the morning is affected. May 5-12 MCHS tests in both the morning and the afternoon.

Have you tried Newsela?

All Madison County teachers still have access to Newsela Pro. The subscription period runs from now through June 30, 2016. Please see the instructions below to get started! We have many teachers in the district who are using Newsela, and they are seeing the benefits!

Newsela is an innovative way to build reading comprehension with nonfiction that's always relevant: daily news. It's easy and amazing.

Instructions from Newsela:

Teachers that have already registered should be all ready to go. If for some reason they experience any problems, please have them, or a designated Newsela liaison reach out to

Teachers should register with their school-assigned email. Our system requires this. For teachers that are registering for the first time, please have each teacher register here under their own school (using the school's zip code).

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Focusing on What Matters

Many of you have already seen the results of the Department of Education's survey of teachers about reasons why teachers are leaving the profession (links to survey results and to Superintendent Woods' comments are below). Educators today are frustrated by the amount of mandated testing, the evaluation system, and the constant change without seeming to consider the input of trained educators.

Some things are evident in the results and in my conversations with teachers. Teachers don't shy away from being held accountable or from using data. We use data every single day of our lives as we listen to children, as we reflect on whether or not our lesson worked, and as we review classroom assessments and activities to see what our next steps should be. In fact, Madison County's data team process has lead to a laser focus on student work and using it to guide our instruction. We have reaped big gains in test scores, and our students are the winners of our work to put data to use. But, what we do want is for our work--which is both science and art--not to be entirely reduced to a number.

Here's the problem with data (at least quantitative data). It doesn't have heart. The numbers cannot tell you about the heart of a school, a teacher, a child. The accountability system isn't able to see how you come in early and stay late to help individual students. It doesn't see those of you who provided Christmas presents for students, or brought in a jacket or sweatshirt, or let a child have the snack you brought for yourself. It doesn't document the quiet conversations that you have had to motivate students to continue working hard even when the content seems overwhelming. It doesn't capture the pride and joy that you feel when your kids (because they are "our kids" once we've taught them) walk across that graduation stage.

But, your thoughts about whether the teaching profession is still a good one to choose might depend on the lens through which you look--where you choose to focus. After taking one of the "Ruby Payne bus tours" in the fall, an educator in our system wrote these reflections:

"But what of the sad-eyed child sitting at the desk in the classroom, looking back at you? He cannot be ignored. His reality is brought full force into the life of the educator, and an intersection occurs.

What then? One of two things happens. The educator becomes lost in minutiae, seeing the child as a product, a notch in the evaluation belt, and a data point . . .

Or she can be compassionate . . . She can give a hug to the one who's lice-ridden dirty, because affection is an unknown in that girl's life. The hug will carry her through the day. To the child, knowing addition facts doesn't compare . . .

Education is a science, but it's also an art. It is the art of being human, educating humans, dwelling in a square room together for 7 hours kind of human. The art of knowing when to push for a higher standard of result because education can be the way out of poverty for the child, and when to spend a few minutes giving a hug and attention. The art of being human is something [they] can't legislate, put on a plot point, or boast of in a data meeting. The field trip to view the diversity of homes in our county in which our children live is a reminder that in the end, data goes away, but love, kindness, and compassion always remain, because children are the best kind of human."

We can choose to let the mandates--the increased testing and evaluation--be the main thing, or we can choose to focus on our students, giving them what they need to be successful. Data can help us help that child--point us to where we need to start, where we are going, and hopefully, help us celebrate how far we have come! But, there is a child behind that data, and none of us want that child to get lost.

I hope, that as we start this new year, you will continue to choose to be teachers because of that child whose life is waiting to intersect with yours. Let's choose this year to focus on the students and try our hardest--in an environment where they (and we) are bombarded by assessments, evaluation, and mandates--to carve out times when learning is joyful and teaching (even the parts where we are looking at data) is about reaching kids and "being human."

Happy New Year!


Teachers Making Headlines

Madison County High School teacher Dallas Cowne's poetry and writing is featured in a newly published book A Thousand Scattered Moments. The book is a compilation of works by Dallas, former superintendent Keith Cowne, Ellen Cowne, former MCHS counselor Beegee Elder, and Chad Elder. All educators, they include poetry and prose about the beautiful "scattered" moments that make life meaningful.

Dallas' "Thank You," reprinted with permission below, is a tribute to the counselors who worked with him as their director at a summer camp for underprivileged youth on Tybee Island. If you listen closely, you will hear our "thank you" to you--the teachers who, every day, change the world "one child at a time."

Thank You

Hail you peerless ministers who’ve heard the calling
of terrestrial tasks like angels falling
on rusty beaches, poor Tybee’s soil.
For countless summers, you continuously toil
to touch the lives of the young and downtrodden,
to remember those whom others have forgotten.
You who count your wages in thankful embraces,
you who look for your reward on innocent faces.
You are the tongue of God to the souls of the confused,
you are the hands of God to the wounds of the abused.
You live a life of sacrifice for others’ gain,
but despite your hard work and occasional pain,
if you look hard at your life, you will surely find
that you are changing the world, one child at a time.

Dallas Cowne, 2005

Reprinted with permission of the author

from E. Cowne's (Ed.) A Thousand Scattered Moments

Published by AuthorHouse, 2015

Spring Testing Calendars

2nd Semester K-8 Testing Calendar

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2nd Semester MCHS Testing Calendar

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Madison County School District Instructional Office

Mr. Michael Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

Ms. Brittan Ayers, Secondary Curriculum and Federal Programs Director

Ms. Amy Denman, Technology Director

Ms. Cathy Gruetter, Elementary Curriculum and Assessment Director

Dr. Kelly King, Special Education Director

Dr. Amanda Sailors, Student Services Director